NBN Co chair quits, says AFR


blog The Financial Review has been on a bit of a roll when it comes to its coverage of the National Broadband Network over the past week, and at midnight last night it added to its spate of discoveries about the company constructing it. Last night the media outlet reported that NBN Co chairman Harrison Young (pictured) was planning to quit as the company’s chairman, with current board member Siobhan McKenna to step into his place. The company’s article states (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“NBN Co is believed to be preparing to name Ten Network Holdings director Siobhan McKenna as its new chairperson, replacing Harrison Young.”

The publication also published another article with a number of other claims about the progress of the company’s fibre rollout and negotiations with contractors. Look, folks, while the AFR hasn’t always been as reliable about the NBN as it could have been, its reports overnight are looking broadly accurate. None of NBN Co’s spokespeople are returning Delimiter’s calls this morning, and neither is the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. We’d say this indicates the two groups are consulting right now as to how to handle this latest embarassing stuff-up when it comes to the NBN. It’s just not a good look for the company’s chairman to quit, just a few months before key rolllout targets are due to be met and in the midst of Labor’s ongoing leadership crisis.

We’d say Mr Young has demonstrated an amazingly poor grasp of the political process by quitting at this time; perhaps this means he never had the kind of discretion required to lead NBN Co’s board in the first place. Likewise … we can’t say we’re a huge fan of McKenna’s appointment, if true. This is McKenna’s NBN Co biography:

“Ms McKenna was appointed as a director on 5 August 2009 and reappointed on 5 August 2012. Ms McKenna is a director of Ten Networks Holdings, DMG Radio Australia and The Australian Ballet. She is the Managing Partner of Illyria Pty Ltd and is on a leave-of-absence as a Commissioner of the Productivity Commission. Previously Ms McKenna was a partner at international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company where she specialised in advising telecommunications and media companies. She was also a Member of the Advisory Board of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Ms McKenna’s current term will expire on 4 August 2015.”

See a lot of experience in there rolling out massive swathes of telecommunications infrastructure? Yeah, not so much. It seems like this would have been a useful kind of experience for a chairman of NBN Co. But then Young didn’t have that either, so what do we know?

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. “poor grasp of the political process by quitting at this time”
    Argh there’s an election coming up man! What are you doing!

    “None of NBN Co’s spokespeople are returning Delimiter’s calls this morning, and neither is the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy”
    Do you see any white smoke coming out of the chimney from their building? :)

  2. I saw something recently which talked about staff turnover at NBNco and compared it to the industry in general. The analysis said that there was basically no real difference between NBNco and anywhere else.

    However, it would be prudent for NBNco to maintain as much stability as it can in this politically sensitive period. While Harrison Young may believe he is serving his own best interests by leaving a company that is at-risk before it can possibly stain his resume, I would personally be loathe to hire someone who would leave at a time when stability is paramount.

    • I just can’t believe he handed Conroy this situation when the Labor leadership is basically imploding this week already because of the Rudd situation and the media reforms. It’s like … couldn’t he have done this next week? Or next month?

      • I’m wondering what the fuss is about, every board I’ve ever come across consisted of a bunch of clueless fat cats that left the real work to the companies management!

        Re: the “Labor leadership” issues, frankly I think this is all just FUD by the MSM/LNP – they’ve been crying wolf for the last 3 years and I no longer believe anything they publish!

      • Sack the entire NBN management, they are incompetent.

        You NBN’ers claim you want this thing built on time and on budget, yet you just want to play politics which is why it’s failing and will continue to fail.

        Steve Jobs didn’t keep all the losers at Apple when he became CEO, he kept the handful of talent, sacked the rest and brought in outside talent. Quigley is now a proven loser so he has to go, keeping him is just a political stunt and is not in the best interests of the company.

        BTW we have heard lots about the “Ramp up”, but NBN and Conroy forgot to tell us what happens after June… THE RAMP DOWN! Yes thats right folks, the Ramp down. Check this graph out:

        Didn’t mention that one did they? At that rate it will take them 100 years to roll out the NBN.

        The management team has got to go. Sack them and sack them now.

          • Okay I was being a bit dramatic, sack the dead wood from NBN management starting off Quigley who clearly has failed in his role. He’s the guy at the top being paid top bucks($2 Mill a year) and he’s failing in his duties.

            Holding on to make Labor look good at the election is a joke. Are you guys serious about getting this thing built?

          • Let’s put it in the too hard basket! Don’t give up that easy :)
            If Liberal get in (which looks likely) it probably won’t be built, so…

      • “It’s like … couldn’t he have done this next week? Or next month?”

        eh? Would that really make a difference? The media are always speculating about the leadership.

  3. AFR have been on a roll yes, but the fact that NBNCo have seemed not to respond to any of the articles is far more concerning then the articles themselves.

    Either they’re ignoring the bad press thinking people won’t take the AFR seriously or they don’t know how to respond.

    I would have expected better from a company as big as NBNCo.

  4. Let’s just imagine for a moment (deep breath) that the NBN hadn’t been politicised to death. Let’s just try that one on for size.

    So, in this world, the NBN was no more political than, say, the building of a rail line or a bridge or a new freeway that both sides of politics broadly agreed on. In other words, like most other major infrastructure projects.

    In this world, NBN Co would be seen to be doing a pretty good job, with plans and contracts being conducted prudently, and generally things being done right.

    Of course, some delays occur. Almost all infrastructure projects have them, and the biggest ones generally have the most. The Syntheo group hasn’t performed well; a contractual remedy exists. The cost is a few months’ delay with some sites. But no one would see this as evidence that the entire project was in “jeopardy” or that gross mismanagement had occured.

    IN OTHER WORDS – the NBN has a POLITICAL problem, not an operational one. I have no doubt that the turnover of senior people, like the Chair, is directly related to the political temperature and exposure to absurd levels of criticism and wildly off-target claims.

    There is no reason in a reasonable world why the NBN should be attracting the ridiculous kinds of attacks it has. Other than the fact that a start-up telco with a huge task ahead of it makes for a big, easy target.

      • Some criticism – yes. As is obvious to everyone, NBN Co is a pretty big target. It’s the blue whale

        But is there a serious argument to be made that the whole of NBN Co is crashing and burning? Not in a “political” sense, in a real operational sense? Not just having to kick some targets down the road a bit, but in the sense of being catastrophically unable to complete the job in any reasonable timeframe.

        • “But is there a serious argument to be made that the whole of NBN Co is crashing and burning? Not in a “political” sense, in a real operational sense? Not just having to kick some targets down the road a bit, but in the sense of being catastrophically unable to complete the job in any reasonable timeframe.”

          It depends on what they say about the June rollout target, when they say it. It’s been reported they are not even going to make it halfway to that target. If that happens, then yes, I would say they are having serious credibility issues.

          • Renai,

            the thing is, that ‘halfway’ is misleading and sounds very dramatic. For example, if NBN was doubling its premises passed every day, then ‘halfway’ implies being a single day behind.

            What really matters is the amount of time they are behind in completing the project. If we knew the number of premises being passed per day, then we would know what the real impact is.

            Consider it another way – if their peak is processing 6,500 premises a day (proposed for 2015 I think), then the June target being missed by half is around 140,000 / 6,500 = being 21 days behind schedule. 21 days behind schedule sounds a lot different to missing their target by 50%.

            Of course we aren’t looking to have anything like 6,500 passed per day by the end of June, that is obviously all just hypothetical.

            But the actual number of premises passed per day is going to be the important figure to know. It will give the real picture of where the progress is at and how long it will take to catch up (also knowing how fast the rate of premises passed is growing is important) and will be the real health check of this crucial ‘ramp up’ period.

            For political mileage, the ‘only halfway’ figure will probably be used and abused quite freely – and quite deceptively. Sadly I suspect that the more important figure of premises passed per day will also be far short of what it needs to be.

  5. I agree the politics of the NBN does overshadow everything NBNCo do but they must also deliver. I am not so much worried about meeting gross roll out numbers by any particular month in a 10 year project as this can always be caught up but what is vital is that the roll out speed ramps up to 6000/month. If there are hiccups ramping up to this rate for 6 or 12 months then it will be a non project problem but still a political one. The ball is firmly in NBN Cos court to provide the roadmap of how the required roll out rate is going to be achieved.

    Bottom line is FTTP still needs to be done and people dropping their bundle on day to day events need to calm down and approach the problems logically and thoughtfully while trying to ignore the political hysteria.

  6. I’m sorry Renai but I think the AFR is blowing this WAY out.

    Young was appointed to theChairmanship on 15th March 2010. That means his 3 years are up. Which is EXACTLY why AFR just happened to mention he ‘wasn’t standing for reappointment’. He’s not quitting. His time as Chairman is up and he wants to move on. That’s a bit different to outright quitting. It just happened to come at the EXACT time NBNCo. are having issues.

    I don’t doubt they are having issues. If this wasn’t so politicised they’d likely be sitting in the business sections. Whether some heads need to roll or not is a genuine question. But I don’t think Young getting to the end of his term and not wanting to stand again, ESPECIALLY with the scrutiny NBNCo. has been under, is exactly surprising….

  7. “in the midst of Labor’s ongoing leadership crisis”
    What leadership crisis? It’s all just smoke and mirrors (and some of it pure lies), I can’t believe you of all people fall for it. The media demonstrated in 2010 when they were caught completely unaware that they don’t have a damn clue what goes on inside the Labor party, now suddenly after months of constant “imminent leadership challenge” et al they are suddenly on the money? Give me a break.

    • The votes at 4:30pm so there is a leadership challenge, if it’s a spill, we won’t know until after the vote.

      • Crean asked for it, but isn’t standing. Nobody has said they are standing, at this point in time it seems Gillard is going to be the only option to vote for!

        Regardless, isn’t it amazing how the press chooses the country’s leader, even when there isn’t an election.

          • MSM in bed with LNP caught out trying to create a Leadership change AGAIN – good on Rudd for sticking to his word!

      • “A broken clock will be right once every 12 hours”

        My favourite response to this is along the lines of: yeah, but a clock that is just a little bit slow (like Malcolm Turnbull*) can be wrong for years on end.

        *insert name of choice in parenthesis.

        • I think that one is broken.

          Needs a new monkey to wind it up, as the current one doesn’t know what it’s doing.

          Time for a leadership spill in the LNP!

  8. And here’s the official media release:


    Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Penny Wong, today announced that Siobhan McKenna has been appointed Chair of NBN Co.

    The three-year term of the current Chair, Mr Harrison Young expired on 14 March 2013. Mr Young has decided not to stand for reappointment.

    Ms McKenna has served on the board of NBN Co for three years. She is also a director on the board of Ten Network Holdings, DMG Radio Australia, Illyria Pty Ltd and the Australian Ballet. Ms McKenna has previously served as a Commissioner with the Productivity Commission, a director with Prime Media Group and a partner with McKinsey & Company.

    “Ms McKenna brings extensive experience to the role and her expertise will help guide NBN Co. as it rolls out the NBN,” Senator Wong said.
    Senator Conroy thanked Mr Young for his commitment to NBN Co.

    “I want to thank Harrison Young for his service on the NBN Co board,” Senator Conroy said.

    “Mr Young has been integral to establishing the commercial arrangements that provide a strong foundation for the company and the volume rollout of the NBN.”

    Mr Young said: “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve as Chairman of NBN Co. under the direction of Senators Conroy and Wong.
    “I wish Siobhan, Mike Quigley and all my colleagues at the company the very best as they take this important initiative forward.”

  9. “We’d say Mr Young has demonstrated an amazingly poor grasp of the political process”

    Mr Young is not a politician so why should he?
    He is no longer chair, so why should he care?

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