Ziggy has no rollout experience, says Albo



news Shadow Communications Minister Anthony Albanese has criticised the Government’s appointment of former Telstra and Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski to lead NBN Co, pointing out that the executive has not led major network construction work and that his tenure at both telcos was controversial.

As expected, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday confirmed former Telstra and Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski had been appointed as executive chairman of NBN Co, with most of the company’s board departing and NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley to leave the company.

The announcement was made at a press conference in Canberra this afternoon, where Turnbull described Switkowski as “one of the most experienced telecommunications executives in Australia”, noting that the executive had led both Telstra and Optus as chief executive as well as having a subsequent “distinguished” career as a company director and chairman.

However, questions remain about the extent to which Switkowski is qualified to lead NBN Co’s predominantly construction-focused operation.

Switkowski only served as Optus chief executive for a year in the late 1990’s, in a period in which Optus had predominantly finished deploying its HFC cable network. The executive served at Telstra for half a decade through to 2004, but Telstra did not engage in significant network construction activities similar to NBN Co’s rollout, during that period.

During Switkowski’s time at Telstra, the only substantial hard fixed-line telecommunications construction efforts the company was involved in included laying international submarine cables, and backhaul fibre rollouts connecting regions, both of which are qualitatively different from the street by street access network construction which makes up the bulk of NBN Co’s work. The company’s main network work, apart from these piece jobs, was actually the ongoing maintenance of its copper network.

Secondly, Switkowski exited both companies under acrimonious circumstances. His departure from Optus came prematurely and in the middle of corporate chaos, and the executive was asked to leave in December 2004 by Telstra’s then-board, led by chair Donald McGauchie. Part of the problem was Switkowski’s bad relationship with McGauchie, who had taken the chair role in April that year. But part of the problem was that Switkowski, with aborted plans to buy newspaper group Fairfax and TV channel Nine in the picture, had not been able to articulate a clear future direction for Telstra.

Since Switkowski’s departure from Telstra in 2004, he is not known to have held a role in the Australian or global telecommunications sector.

Asked about these specific issues today, Turnbull said Switkowski had run “a very large company, Telstra”, which constantly rolled out telecommunications networks, as well as running Optus during its HFC construction period. In addition, Turnbull said Switkowski had not been appointed as “head of construction”, but as head of NBN Co as a whole, which was a very different role.

However, in a statement issued late yesterday, Albanese said the governance of the NBN could be “compromised” by Turnbull’s haste in appointing a new NBN board

“Only a day after being sworn in as Minister, Mr Turnbull effectively sacked the entire NBN Co board. Now he has announced a new three person board, led by executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switowski,” said Albanese. “One of the first principles of good governance is that a board should have an appropriate and broad mix of skills and experience. This cannot be achieved with a three person Board, no matter how accomplished Mr Turnbull may think they are.”

“Before the election, Mr Turnbull claimed he would add experience relevant to the NBN rollout, but he has failed to do so. While Dr Swikowski has been CEO of both Telstra and Optus, he was not in charge of any major new network construction activity in either role. His tenure at Optus and Telstra was not without controversy.”

Albanese said Turnbull’s record as a Minister and Opposition Leader showed he had a tendency to be impetuous. “This is not a characteristic suited to making decisions about something as important as the National Broadband Network,” the Labor MP said.

Albanese is not the only high-profile figure to severely criticise Turnbull’s handling of the situation with respect to NBN Co’s board. This morning, the Financial Review carried an opinionated article by former NBN Co director Brad Orgill, who refused to resign his role and was fired by Turnbull this week. Orgill criticised both Labor and the Coalition for their poor handling of the NBN project, saying that he had resolved not to resign his post out of protest, from a sense of “weariness at politics overshadowing fair process”.

Albanese has made a very valid point here. Not to beat my own drum, but I’ve been arguing this about Switkowski for quite a while. As I wrote in my Delimiter 2.0 article about Switkowski in early September:

“… at neither company did the executive actually conduct a significant network infrastructure rollout, and certainly not of the kind which NBN Co is currently engaged in. Optus’ dramatically cut short its HFC cable rollout in 1997, and Telstra did the same that same year in response, meaning Switkowski only had a very small period overseeing either rollout.”

And in a separate Delimiter 2.0 article yesterday I argued:

“Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spent much of the past year telling anybody who will listen that NBN Co’s board needs more directors with actual telco network construction experience. Yet the candidates he’s appointed or been reported to have approached so far for board positions cannot claim that background, and several have close ties to Turnbull’s own Liberal Party.”

Turnbull had better come up with some board directors in his next tranche of appointments who actually have some experience deploying telecommunications networks. Because so far he has done abysmally at matching his actions to his words when it comes to NBN Co’s board.

Image credit: Toby Hudson, Creative Commons


  1. the ongoing maintenance of its copper network.

    well to be fair, they’re going to need someone with a lot of experience with that. :)

    • The underinvestment in the copper especially in Switkowski’s time was such that the network was said to be five minutes to midnight by Testra themselves.

      I’m sorry but to suggest that Ziggy Switkowski has any experience or for that matter interest in the ongoing a maintenance of a copper network is rewriting history.

      • Ziggy’s job is to dismantle the NBN, he doesnt need experience in ‘roll outs’ for that…hes good a breaking up companies …perfect man to execute Malcolms directive by Abbott to ‘destory the nbn’.

        All to plan…staged dismantling…

    • What about other maintenance costs? The ISP’s have to maintain dialup, ADSL, and ADSL2 as well, which adds up over time.

      Want an example, go find out how much Telstra has to spend on 3G, Edge, etc on maintenance. These are costs being covered while trying to push 4G to the masses. FttN is the same, enough people will stick with the old technology that a) it needs to be maintained, and b) it reduces the number of people using the new service, hence generating less profit.

      Old tech maintenance is a big enough problem they need to look at ways of removing it from service completely. FttN does nothing to help that, and only drives a market to continue the same way for 20 years.

      Maybe thats what the telco’s want, but I cant see how it helps them make a bigger profit.

    • Albo wouldn’t understand a word spoken here on Delimiter.

      He wouldn’t know his USB from his Ethernet. Stupid isn’t the word. Not entirely sure how he got the portfolio of Communications.

      • I tend to agree Cdinoz…

        Albo is in the same league, although probably ahead of, Coonan, Alston and Smith. And certainly a step backwards for the current opposition from Conroy, who love him or hate him, at least had the guts to do something about our ailing comms.

        But the opposition have Kate Lundy, arguably the most knowledgeable comms person of anyone in politics (although Paul Fletcher has had hands on and of course MT had involvement in Ozemail)….

        So why she isn’t given a go is anyone’s guess?

        I’ve said all along regardless of political persuasion, they are all politicians. So perhaps those on the Labor side love their boys club, just as much asTA and his mob obviously do… what else could it be, seriously?

  2. Spot on Renai.

    This has the makings of a massive debarkle written all over it so far :(

    • Indeed tinman, I think together we may have stumbled upon an actual acronym and a fitting name for MT’s mish-mash idea.

      *** NDN – Notional Debacle Network ***

      Yes I meant ‘notional…’ but of course notional or network can be easily interchanged with nonsense….

      Everybody… please feel free to use this apt description (even if I say so myself) in future…


  3. so is there anyone in australia who has had experience with an NBN-type construction project?

    my thought is that deploying ISP-type networks (ie: hackett, malone, etc) is a bit different to managing the NBN rollout.

    happy to be proven wrong, but i see plenty of criticism, but not many suggestions as to who should have got the job (besides the push for hackett on the board, which is a bit different than being the exec. chair)…

    • Simon Hackett and Mike Malone are about as close as it gets.

      Both Internode and iiNet devoted significant resources to planning a large scale Fibre rollout as part of the 2007/8 NBN tender process, but withdrew because the government was wedded to the idea of a FTTN model.

      Of the two I get the feeling that Hackett is more informed on the technical engineering side, but is history of FTTP partisanship makes him an extremely unlikely choice.

  4. It seems, based on NBN progress so far, the most needed skill is getting contracting companies to pull their finger out and get some work done.

  5. “In addition, Turnbull said Switkowski had not been appointed as “head of construction”, but as head of NBN Co as a whole, which was a very different role.”

    This is seriously lame from Turnbull. Quigley was never “head of construction” either. He was head of the NBN Co as a whole. Turnbull made lots of noises about Quigleys apparent lack of construction experience.
    One thing can be said about Turnbull since he has been in power, his is consistent in his hypocrisy. Chalk up another example right here!

    • Quigley wasn’t the head of NBN Co as a whole, he was the Chief Executive Officer who reported to the Board. Ziggy has been appointed Chairman of the Board.

      Has Quigley actually left the position of CEO yet? Or has Dr Ziggy started in the acting role until one can be appointed?

  6. The Nbn is doomed…
    Cabin Boy at the helm, and 2 cooks manning the boats.. With a strong blowhard trying to sink it..

    • But of course everything was all ok when the Labor appointed NBN Co was running it so it’s all relative, will the new board do a better job?, what’s the benchmark for ‘what a better job’ is?

      Obviously that’s totally irrelevant, let’s pillory them before they have even started in the job and before we are in a position to make any proper rational judgment on performance.

      • “.. what’s the benchmark for ‘what a better job’ is?”

        “let’s pillory them before they have even started in the job and before we are in a position to make any proper rational judgment on performance”

        So we can just all sing kumbaya (and ignore the fact that NBNco & board were grilled on all almost daily basis under Labor, and pretty savagely by Turnbull who was not above singleing out individuals..) now the Libs are in charge, good to know.

        Thanks for clearing that up.

        NBNco didn’t get a break from “proper rational judgment on performance” (not that much of it was proper or rational, as I recall) either before they even started, let alone before they had a chance to ramp up.

      • Mike Quigley was little known when he got the job…..Ziggy has a lot of form, and many of us remember what Telstra was like under Ziggy.

        You might thing past history doesn’t mater, but that’s just because your a Liberal stooge :o)

      • Its not a judgement on performance, its a judgement on experience. Turnbull, for the better part of a year, attacked Quigley personally and professionally with bullshit claims. Accusations of coruption while at Alcatel, and straight up declarations that he had no experience with infrastructure rollouts.

        Despite evidence completely proving otherwise, that was the stance Turnbull took. Its up to you to disagree or agree with the accusations made against Quigley. Point was, Turnbull attacked the board every chance he could with accusations of inexperience.

        And now the response is to put someone in charge thats proven to have less experience, and the two people assisting to have even less than him. Every accusation he made against the previous board needs to be levelled against these 3 to determine if they are fit for the job or not. And the answer is that no, they arent better options in any obvious way.

        If he wants to change the rules, then apply the same rules against the previous board and see where you get. Ziggy’s been hand picked because he headed up two telco companies. Thats all. So how does that compare to Quigleys role at Alcatel?

        Simple comparison. Find negatives to Quigley, and ask if Ziggy has anything better to offer. Find positives to Ziggy, and ask if Quigley wasnt just as experienced, if not moreso.

        Or are you so enamoured with the Liberal party you cant even do that?

  7. So a man who had the job for a couple of weeks and had IT advisors appointed after admitting he had no technical background or knowledge is criticising the appointment of someone who headed up the two largest comms companies in the country.

    Yep, seems reasonable to me.

    • You have that backwards; Turnbull has been screeching that only those with industry experience, particularly with respect to large scale infrastructure rollouts should be involved.

      And has since started stacking the board with folks who, really, just don’t. Albo is simply telling Turnbull to ‘dogfood’ his own statements.

      Fair call.

      • So what you see announced this week is the board that will not change or be added to at all for the next three years?

        • No, what you see announced this week is the utmost hypocrisy from Malcolm Turnbull considering his statements over the last three or more years.

          • Which really doesn’t answer what I asked about future changes to the NBN board, the Coalition rollout has not even started yet, we are still building the NBN as per normal under contracts made under Labor policy.

          • Conjecture Fibroid…

            Also typical FttP NBN only rules being applied again…

            You refuse to accept any positive FttP NBN info, because they are/were projected into the future. Yet here you are demanding answers from us about the future… WTF?

            As I said before, time to break old habits of FttP NBN bashing and start to find something, anything, to try to justify your politically preferred inferior, copper reliant, similarly priced (govt. spend) mish-mash FttN option….

            We await with bated breath (to hear about, umm, err the UK, maybe, again) *sigh*

  8. That is funny coming from Albo. Labor had no fibre roll out experience either.

    Thats funny coming from you TLG….oh, wait, no it isn’t…

  9. Funny that eh TLG, apparently the Labor rollout was going along ‘really really well’.

    ‘Mr Orgill said that when he joined the board in September 2012, parts of NBN Co were dysfunctional and that delays in the rollout were unacceptable.



    ‘Mr Quigley said he had ”never believed that the solution to this problem was to spend more taxpayers’ money than is required for an efficient network build, even if doing so may have made life a bit easier for management”.

    He also gave some backing to the Coalition’s scaled-back NBN proposal, saying fibre-to-the-node would allow the project to be built ”more quickly and at less cost to the taxpayer”.’


    Oh I see , let me read that pertinent bit again.

    ‘saying fibre-to-the-node would allow the project to be built ”more quickly and at less cost to the taxpayer”.’

    • Mike Quigley should stop spreading FUD. The NBN doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. In fact, the NBN doesn’t cost anyone anything at all. It’s an INVESTMENT not a cost. I know coz I learnt this on D.

    • @ Fibroid,

      Is that the very same Mr Orgill who said the school halls was a success?

      Oh but of course he was a nutter according to some back then, when a few lines couldn’t be hand-picked for political expediency, just as you did here… *rolls eyes*

      Here’s the interesting bit you conveniently left out (or just read the first few lines and salivated)…

      ….but also impressed by what had been achieved in many of the workstreams,” he said. “We could have got the local network component back on track to complete as scheduled by 2021.”

      Feel free to add the rest in future.

      • “We could have got the local network component back on track to complete as scheduled by 2021.”

        A prediction of what might have happened, but of course as every rollout target was downgraded it was supposed to be made up in the next reporting period, except that never happened, all that was happening was the missed targets were carried forward every time, so it was getting worse not better.

        At the end in the last report for 2013 it was a little over a half of what they said it would be in 2012, and that was only 12 months later after that last prediction.


        • being that the workforce was roughly 1/4 its expected final size, which you left out, might have something to do with it?

          the other thing coming to mind is that we dont know what the line length trend at various points of the build is. given the minority gov deal the last administration did, the one that told them they had to do an outside in rollout? you might think that under that directive the easier bits are yet to be done, and one can consequently gain speed as you go on in the rollout? but given the network will be fucked around with before getting to that point, we will never know.

          if the line length trend from end 2013 to completion was a falling one – i.e. the lines would tend to be longer towards 2013 and shorter to 2021, and the workforce comes up quickly – the full workforce was supposed to be fielded in 2015 iirc – i dont see any problems with the notion that catchup could be possible, and even a slight delay as already projected, would be acceptable. we’re certainly not talking about a 20Y blowout here. let alone five – i doubt even Renai would expect the mistakes made to blow it out to 2026, tho if he does id be interested to hear it.

          again, we’d only have the full data set of the job had been finished, but i suspect the delays would not have been as bad as made out, in hindsight.

          • I’m guessing a post was removed, possibly a TLG one that has a reply or 2 but I cant see anywhere. Removing a parent post has the annoying effect of orphaning the entire chain of replies like this.

          • @nonny-moose

            ‘again, we’d only have the full data set of the job had been finished, but i suspect the delays would not have been as bad as made out, in hindsight.’

            No hindsight tells the delays were bad, having a rollout figure at a bit over half 12 months out from when you made that prediction is appalling, and that’s what actually happened.

            Foresight the opposite of hindsight predicted that by 2021 ALL the 2010-2013 shortfalls would have been made up as well as keeping to the targets for all the new areas from 2014 onward all over Australia for every year through to completion.

            How is this possible if your rollout workforce stays relatively the same?


          • Something’s definitely up with the site atm, Renai – no mobile site for a couple of days now.

            Having read the first 40 pages of the 2013-16 business plan, there is something that stands out quite clearly to me about the rollout delays – NBN Co were tasked to deliver FTTP services for all greenfields developments with 100 or more premises as a priority. That helps to explain both the odd distribution of early deployment sites and goes a long way as a contribution to early rollout delays. Think about it – if there’s a new development suburb right out at the edge of the suburbs, NBN Co have to deliver FTTP infrastructure there first, including all the necessary backhaul. It is only once these greenfield sites have been completed that they can go back and start connecting suburbs along that backhaul they’ve had to run all the way out to the greenfield.

            NBN Co talk about this as being a ‘challenge’. I’d call it the most significant impact on the whole rollout. I get that people in new houses need telecommunications services, but surely they could have been put on satellite or mobile in the interim, so they could be delivered fibre as part of an optimised and efficient rollout, not prioritised to the detriment of the whole country – that’s just idiotic.

        • @ Fibroid…

          So Mr Orgill’s opinions should heeded (when they are inline with yours only)…

          Seriously *shakes head*

    • Fibroid ,at his selective best. Looks like you forgot the bit about Malcolm.

      Probably an oversight. After all, you would never consciously cherry pick evidence, would you Fibroid?

  10. I call it nepotism at its best to put Ziggy (best mates with Turbull) in is a direct attempt to BANKRUPT the NBN , Should Telstra have no objections and hand the copper back to the Liberals Thats when i know that Telstra never wanted nor does it intend to let go of it Strangle hold Monopoly in Australia, Telstra will be know as the DOGS of technology because of their attitude towards competition .The NBN is a must in the 21 and beyond century its a pitty the LIBERALS dont get it .

  11. welcome to the Liberal 3-ring circus!

    exactly what many of us predicted it would be. ive said it before, i want to like Malcolm, and he could have flipped the feeling i had for him as Shadow quite quickly. but since this has fallen into his lap – yes its been every bit a debacle as the worst elements of the previous administration. and as (many here) predicted.

    infrastructure builds are never easy. and if that realisation had been made – by both sides, and that both would have their part to play given the 10Y rollout schema – BEFORE the election that would have helped, but had buckleys of happening. and as at least one other article i saw today pointed out – if things had been dealt with differently all the way back when, even before Telstra was originally hived off as a vertically integrated entity….. all this shit would be unnecessary and we wouldnt be faffing about wasting time on this party political shit.

    but since we are stuck with it all we can do is critique the one holding the tiller for the moment. and as it stands, the new pilot who spent so much time agitatin against and rising mutiny against the ole cap’n … starts his tenure looking much the same as albo did.. flailing to get a grip and into the folio quickly. the phrase coming to mind goes ‘Ave! Bossa nova, similis Bossa seneca’.

    i have to say Conroys knowledge of the folio still looks the best of the bunch of the last couple decades….. i’ll leave room for malcolm, hes only just started. but its not at all an auspicious start to my mind….

  12. Be Afraid!

    Dr Switkowski does have rollout experience, he personally signed off of the rollout of one nationwide aggregation server. The infamous Shasta from Nortel it was sold under the slogan of ‘one server to aggregate them all!’. It was a flop that kept on going off line. So, they decided to buy more !!!! Telstra was the world largest purchaser of the Shasta product.

    His nuclear physics doctorate should help him perform the nuclear option on fibre to the home. Which will make Minister Malcolm very happy. The advisability of ex CEO of Telstra Dr Switcowski and ex Chairman of Ozemail Minister Malcolm trying to get a better deal from Telstra for the copper network
    is to be seen. The chance to both off load the maintenance nightmare and get more cash must have Telstra rubbing its hands together. The likelihood that Telstra will become the lead contractor basically taking a percentage to have exactly the same contracting companies build the NBN is all but guaranteed.


  13. Just to keep you all updated, Turnbull was on Insiders this morning and confirmed that the 60 day count down has begun for the completion of a review, and infact it would have started upon the appointment of Ziggy.

    He also refused to call the NBN the biggest single issue in his communications portfolio.

    It would be good to have a site where we can submit and track these gems that Turnbull comes up with.

  14. What does Albo know about using a PC? He himself says he has people who do that for him….

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