NBNCo chairman Ziggy Switkowski may have breached the “caretaker” conventions in the approach to the July 2 election, according to the nation’s most senior bureaucrat.
As the ALP and Coalition fight over the cost and roll out of the National Broadband Network, Fairfax Media has revealed that Labor’s finance spokesman Tony Burke complained after Switkowski wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax on May 28, following police raids against Conroy and a Labor staffer over NBN leaks.
Burke complained about political interference by a public servant during the election campaign.
Subsequent correspondence from Dr Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to Burke, says NBN officials sought the advice of the Department of Communications and the Arts before sending the op-ed to Fairfax, but their recommendation that it “was not consistent with the established practices associated with the Caretaker Conventions” was ignored.
In his article, Switkowski called the leak “theft” and said it was used for “partisan attacks” that “wrongly tarnish our reputation, demoralise our work force, distract the executive, and raise doubts where there is little basis for concern”.
The confidential internal documents detailed cost and time blow-outs for the NBN roll outs and some of their contents were published by Fairfax Media in previous reports.
Switkowski argued it was not whistle-blowing and anyone who didn’t agree with the company’s strategy, “they can argue their case with management or resign”.
“They cannot give voice to their preferred ideology by passing on stolen documents,” he wrote.
Parkinson, who was ousted by Tony Abbott as head of Treasury but later made a triumphant return to the civil service as head of DPM&C after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister, investigated Burke’s complaint and concluded the opinion piece was “not consistent with established practices around caretaker conventions which are directed at protecting the apolitical nature of government bodies and preventing controversies about the role of those bodies distracting attention from the substantive issues in the election campaign”.
“I have conveyed this view directly to Dr Switkowski,” he wrote to Burke.
The revelations just over a fortnight out from the election amid a battle between the two major parties over the future of the NBN places Switkowski’s position as chair under a cloud, especially should Labor win the election.
Fairfax Media has more here.