news The Opposition has accused Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull of unethical behaviour in the appointment of another former Telstra executive of his personal acquaintance to help guide the National Broadband Network Company, with the news today that former BigPond and OzEmail chief Justin Milne would join NBN Co’s board.
In a media release entitled “More jobs for the boys at NBN Co”, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Shadow Deputy Communications Minister Michelle Rowland lamped the Liberal MP for appointing “another mate” to the board of NBN Co.
This afternoon Turnbull announced that he had appointed three senior executives to NBN Co’s board: Former Telstra BigPond and OzEmail chief Justin Milne, Internode founder Simon Hackett and construction industry executive Patrick Flannigan, who had previously served as NBN Co’s head of construction for several years under Labor.
“Malcolm Turnbull has today appointed another mate to the board of NBN Co. This follows the appointment of Ziggy Switowski as Executive Chairman of the board and JB Rousselot as Head of Strategy and Transformation within NBN Co,” wrote the two Labor shadow ministers.
“Justin Milne worked with Mr Turnbull at OzEmail and is widely reported to have various links with Mr Turnbull including participating in a Liberal Party forum in Mr Turnbull’s electorate in 2010. Mr Rousselot also worked with Mr Turnbull at OzEmail. It is reported that he decided to accept the position whilst the two were enjoying a ski trip. Mr Rousselot also worked at Mr Turnbull’s own boutique advisory firm Turnbull and Partners. Mr Turnbull last year described Mr Rousselot as “one of my good friends”.”
“On the 12th of June this year it was reported in Crikey that Mr Milne and Mr Rousselot would be appointed to run NBN Co if the Coalition won the election. At the time, Mr Turnbull rang Crikey and said this was “untrue”. It is now clear that this was true.”
Clare and Rowland said despite the assurance that the NBN Strategic Review would be ‘technology neutral’, Turnbull had appointed one of the most outspoken critics of fibre-to-the-premises and one of the most outspoken advocates of fibre-to-the-node. In April this year, the pair pointed out, Milne told Business Review Weekly earlier this year: “FTTP is ridiculous overkill and underlying the ideas behind FTTP is a lack of understanding of the internet.”
Clare said: “The fix is in. He is appointing a number of mates to make sure he gets what he wants – a second rate broadband network … Malcolm Turnbull is not off to a good start. He was rolled on Huawei by Tony Abbott, he has whipped 500,000 homes off the NBN map and he is continuing to give jobs at NBN Co to his mates.”
“It is hard to believe that the Strategic Review will say anything other than what Mr Turnbull wants it to say, ” added Rowland.
Neither Shadow Minister commented on the appointments of Hackett or Flannigan to NBN Co’s board. Hackett is seen as a significant advocate for Fibre to the Premises broadband, as well as having been an outspoken critic of a number of aspects of the NBN policy — ranging from its wholesale pricing mechanisms to its end user equipment.
I’ve written previously and extensively on this issue for Delimiter 2.0 (subscriber content). In late October I went into the background of the various executives Turnbull had appointed to help govern NBN Co. At the time, and I stand by those comments now, I wrote:
“NBN Co’s Strategic Review will be conducted by a cluster of ex-Telstra executives with prior personal connections to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party, supported by external consultants. Does anyone still believe the result will be independent, objective and ‘technology-neutral’?”
Does the appointment of Hackett and Flannigan do anything to mediate this trend? Yes, somewhat. We can hardly expect Hackett, for one, to merely do and say anything Turnbull wants him to. The Internode founder would very likely resign his post at NBN Co rather than be consigned to the fate of a “yes man”. Turnbull has bought himself significant credibility with Hackett’s appointment, which is why Clare and Rowland didn’t mention it in their media release.
However, the fact remains that the criticism that Clare and Rowland have levelled at Turnbull is largely valid. The Minister has made a habit of appointing former Telstra executives who he or the Coalition has had pre-election connections with to run NBN Co. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks whether those appointments have made a mockery of the Strategic Review process.
As a side note, although I haven’t had a chance to touch base with Clare yet, I had a chance to catch up for coffee with Michelle Rowland last week. Regular Delimiter readers (Delimiter 2.0 link) will be aware that the MP has a strong background in telecommunications regulation and has made a number of speeches on the issue in Parliament over her initial three year term.
More so than any other politician I have dealt with over the past decade or so, I came away highly impressed with the MP. I am convinced that Rowland has a deeper knowledge of this sector than any other currently active Federal politician, with the potential exclusion of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Rowland truly is an industry ‘insider’ and has the strength of personality, willpower and political nous required for a Ministerial candidate. It will be fascinating watching the MP’s activities over the next several years. I, for one, have a great deal of confidence in her ability to gain traction for Labor in the portfolio.
Image credit: Australian Labor Party