[the australian] THE consumer group that claims to be the nation's peak independent body on telecommunications is almost wholly funded by the Gillard government, raising doubts about its impartiality on key issues such as the National Broadband Network.
The pro-NBN views of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network are touted by government ministers to help justify its policy, and accepted by most media outlets, which are unaware it is mainly government-funded.
"In the past 24 hours you've had the federal government drawing on this group as if it is a supposedly independent voice, but they are not an independent consumer voice," telecommunications consultant and NBN critic Kevin Morgan said yesterday. "They're 97 per cent funded by the federal government, they're a creature of the minister and the department."
The network this week described the first retail prices for the NBN as being "comparable to what's available today".
The comments were used by the government to bolster its position on the NBN. Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten told the ABC yesterday: "The government in fact agrees with Teresa Corbin, she's the chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, so they're the peak body who speaks on consumer issues."
Yet government documents show ACCAN must justify its performance to Stephen Conroy's Department of Communications every three months to secure its budget of about $2 million a year.
"ACCAN is required to submit quarterly progress reports for assessment to the department against (six) key performance indicators before payment instalments are released," the government said in March in a report on telecommunications grants.
A spokesman for Senator Conroy said last night: "ACCAN have provided quality and important consumer advice over many years."
Government funding accounts for almost all the budget for the network, initiated by Senator Conroy in October 2008 to be "the peak body that represents all consumers on communications issues".
ACCAN says on its website its operation "is made possible by funding provided by the Australian government".
Canberra funds 'independent' consumer body