Productivity Commission chief is ex-DBCDE head


NBN fibre rolling out to Blacktown

blog It escaped our attention at the time, but the more astute among you may have noted in November last year that Peter Harris, the head of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, was appointed to chair the Government’s Productivity Commission. In his role under Conroy, Harris was frequently called on in forums such as Senate Estimates hearings to discuss Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network project, and just a couple of months into his new role (Harris started at the Commission on 11 March), he’s still talking up the initiative. The Financial Review reports (we recommend you click here for the full article, including a video interview):

“Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris has signalled his support for Labor’s national broadband network, but welcomed the idea of doing a cost-benefit analysis for an Abbott government.”

One does rather wonder whether Harris’ move to the Productivity Commission will have any impact on the Coalition’s plans to utilise the agency to research broadband options (including a possible cost/benefit analysis) if it wins power in the upcoming September Federal Election. From the Coalition’s point of view, after all, it might be a tad hard to believe that Harris would be able to be completely impartial about the merits of the various NBN policies out there, although of course he is an experienced and capable civil servant. Only time will tell.

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. It would be a shame if his position and comments are sidelined because of politics. What he was reported to say in the FinRev article was quite logical.

  2. I imagine if the Productivity commission were used for the nbn he would not be involved due to a conflict of interest Problem solved

  3. It is Coalition fault for trying to call upon the CBA in the first place.

    They should just let the NBN continue.

  4. Indeed. What he said was quite interesting:

    “Mr Harris told the conference that the purpose of government was to remove the roadblocks that prevent companies from adapting to change.”

    .. and so easy to reverse!

    “Mr Harris told the conference that the purpose of companies was to increase the roadblocks that prevent government from adapting to change.”

    I’m sure you get the hint.

  5. Harris is a Public Servant. If he’s not used to changing his work because of incoming government policy….he shouldn’t be in the Public Service….

    • ^ This.

      Most senior appointments are made or approved by the minister of the day and senior public servants with years of experience in government business routinely dominate the pool of suitable applicants.

      Ergo almost all senior public positions are political appointments when viewed in this light.

      If he was completely disconnected from the public service and political world, now that would be news worth posting.

  6. “From the Coalition’s point of view, after all, it might be a tad hard to believe that Harris would be able to be would be able to be completely impartial about the merits of the various NBN policies out there”

    From the Australian Public’s point of view, it might be a tad hard to believe that the LNP/Tony Abbot/Malcolm Turnbull would be able to be completely impartial about the merits of the various NBN policies out there. Although obviously we should be able to trust that they would have the interests of the country as a whole at heart, not just the short term interests of a small number of companies.

    • When ideological obsession and the obligation to return favours and vested influential interests are the reality.
      What is best for Long Haul for the Nation and the Economy, let alone the oath of office are irrelevant.

      We wish it was different, but that is reality.
      What we get is what we get, not necessarily what we thought we would get.

  7. Simple… if/when the Coalition win they simply replace Harris with Ergas..

    Then Quigley with Morgan… easy.


    • Could a class action be taken against them when it is obvious it is a disaster for the Nation and Economy ?

      • Probably a waste of time. If they haven’t already, the pollies would just pass a law where they hold no personal liability whatsoever, even if it can be proven they knew it would damage the nation.

  8. The best part about the PC is that it will always publish its finding when they are completed publicly so there can be none of this sitting on a report for 6 months as seen by federal and state governments recently.

  9. It would appear there are two facets to this issue, those being;
    1. Perceptions of bias by the Head of a Dept and that filtering through to findings of any inquiry or study conducted by a federal public service dept and,
    2. Irrespective of the above, the validity of such an inquiry and subsequent recommendations.

    In the past I’ve argued against having a CBA done, in part on the basis of perceptions of bias held by the then Head of the Productivity Commission (Gary Banks). I believed and still do that the capacity exists for the Head of a Public Service Dept to influence findings of research undertaken by it’s staff. As such it would be hypocritical of me to dismiss concerns others might have that the new Head of Dept would have an inherent bias or preconceived perceptions regarding outcomes of an inquiry or study.

    But what is more important is the second facet, that of the validity and soundness of the results and this is where most of my concern lies. Without having the time and resources to conduct a study to the depth required and commensurate with the amount of cash being spent, the impact on the Australian telco industry, the business ecology, and the nation as whole, such an inquiry could only be perceived as superficial at best, farcical at worst. It would be impossible for a Dept to produce a meaningful and in-depth report and recommendations given the scope and detail required.

    As such, Malcolm Turnbull’s statement that the Productivity Commission would be given 2 months to undertake an inquiry is simply a farce. Two months (just 8 weeks) is nothing. It is not enough time to conduct a meaningful study of one option, let alone make a comparison between policy options.

    Considering that Turnbull and the Coalition have already outlined their policy and proposals it is obvious that the intention is for the Productivity Commission to simply act as a rubber stamp, to provide vindication of their policy intentions and quell criticism. As such unless the Commission is given a realistic scope, time frame, and resources any resulting ‘findings’ should be treated as a PR exercise.

    (The other option is that Turnbull believes Henry Ergas’ claims that he could do CBA in a couple of weeks simply by ‘plugging the numbers in’. But I don’t believe Turnbull is that naive, just extremely cynical and duplicitous.)

  10. Two points
    1) Why do we need to do the NBN.?
    2) What is the purpose of the NBN.?

    Addressing these two points takes you to the technology , the means of achieving the results, and the financial structure, – GBE or Private sector subsidised for eternity with large upfront taxpayer donations to incentivise the project.
    In the US there are actually thousands of carriers, most towns and medium “cities” have their own local carrier, these are all heavily subsidised by the government (even now when they are scambling for savings)and are very wealthy as a result, that is why they install fibre. I think that is the model Ergas and the LNP see as ideal. Many profitable carriers on permanent intravenous feed from the taxpayer

  11. Harris had a letter to the editor of the Fin Review today indicating that he was misrepresented by the headline of the Fin’s article and that he did not offer support for Labor’s NBN initiative. It is not the role of PC Chairman to commment on party policital issues – unless the PC has itself done a study and made recommendations on the matter at issue. His comments were simply on structural separation w.r.t the NBN, an approach with apparantly has bipartisan support.

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