Labor decries more NBN “jobs for the boys”


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


  1. At the moment, I’ll give the croneyism the benefit of the doubt. he can appoint his own mother for all I care as long as he meets his 3 year – 2month target for national rollout.

    Proof will be in the pudding. If he fails at execution I’ll want him arrested for corruption, if he succeeds I want a public holiday with his name on it.

    • And what if he meets said target for FTTN, but pushes through the promised infrastructure competition changes, allowing Telstra et al to overbuild with FTTP, undermining the economic rationale behind the whole project and causing it to implode with exponentially expanding debt? What if he achieved his promised targets, but it costs as much to build as FTTP would have? What if it costs more?

      This kind of selfish short sightedness is precisely why the LNP are here tearing the NBN apart as we watch and why, by the time they’re done, Australia will have no chance at a ubiquitous, affordable national fibre network – we’ll be left with expensive, privately controlled ghettos in the cities and FTTN or wireless in rural and regional areas for decades.

      And as for ‘arresting him for corruption’, good luck with that. Politicians in this country are never held to account for their poor (or outright corrupt) decisions.

      But you know, maybe you’ll have 25mbps for more than FTTP would have cost, but three or four year’s earlier. Good for you.

      • I guess I may be more pragmatic than some, but the somewhat trite phrase of “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good” I think applies here.

        The cost to businesses of unstable and slow internet is thousands per day. I can provide anecdotal evidence in the hundreds for this, all across the eastern states and SA.

        Give me FttN where the internet simply works and provides real ADSL2 speeds and the friction on business simply disappears. This alone would do more for small business productivity than any stupid tax rebate.

        Every time you hear of a government measure to boost business in the billions, think instead of getting stable ADSL2-level speeds and realise this would do far more for the economy.

        • I don’t disagree that we have significant problems with Internet connectivity and performance in this country that is significantly detrimental to both businesses and individuals – that’s why the NBN was started in the first place. But if you think the LNP FTTN ‘plan’ is a better way to fix that you’re being extremely naive – the challenges to deploying FTTN in Australia are unique and complex, but instead of acknowledging that and demonstrating planning which directly addresses those challenges, the LNP response has simply been to downplay those difficulties and pretend they don’t exist, instead citing rollout in other countries or cities with higher grade copper that has been more comprehensively maintained and where the incumbent telco is deploying FTTN over their own network. Good policy is never based on misinformation and deception – when that is employed from the outset it’s a pretty good bet the policy is flawed in some pretty significant ways.

          And again, the debate about the possibility of faster deployment ignores the fact that you would still be spending the same amount on a vastly inferior network, and that the economic model the NBN is predicated upon fails under FTTN. So you’re talking about a very short term gain for a significant long term loss. Again I’ll say this is short sighted selfishness with little to no appreciation of the issues involved here.

          Now if you were to say we need to look at what can be done to hasten deployment of FTTP, I would absolutely agree with you. I think prioritisation of greenfields should be removed and greenfields should be given some interim measure unless they are within the most logical and efficient transit network rollout footprint – as it is, the transit network (and thus the whole project) has been designed around delivery to greenfields, which has been tremendously inefficient. Efficiencies like this should be investigated and adopted wherever significant improvements can be found.

          But crippling the network and undermining both its financial viability and the level competition playing field it would have introduced all for the sake of a bit more performance a few years earlier is either insanity or selfish stupidity.

          You’re also completely ignoring the reality that upload performance under FTTN will be crippling slow for effective improvements in business environments. But let’s not dwell too long on inconvenient facts when they disagree with your narrative. After all, we all know facts like this are subjective, right? ;-)

          • Again my inner pragmatism, and distrust of large entities may be my bias.

            I would accept anything now, other something possible later.

            I would have accepted quite happily a 202X finish date for FttP, IF IT WAS ACTUALLY GOING TO HAPPEN!

            Any long term project with this amount of political football-ism is frankly dead in the water. FttN gives me something within one term of government (allegedly), rather than nirvana 8+ years away.

            Is FttP better? Hell Yes! Is it going to happen? At the moment, even if Labour one the Federal election I would be dubious.

            I refer to my earlier statement, about letting the perfect being the enemy of the good.

            For every example overseas of FttP deployments, I have not seen one that is even vaguely comparable to our geography and population density. I think FttP is wonderful, but distinctly challenged in Australia. An overall more expensive, but eminently more achievable step-wise solution strikes me as a safe course to travel to ensure something, anything is actually done.

  2. Turnball has made some good calls on the appointees to the NBN board. One only has to look a the track record of the NBN roll-out actual success rate so far, and the issues to know the NBN organisation needs a serious lift in performance. We must also understand, the LNP inherited the mess and commitment from the ALP, so they are saddled with turning a stale sour fruit, into something palatable. So, cronyism, not in my opinion, just some very experienced people, who will bring appropriate pressure to perform to the leadership and management teams.

    Here In Townsville, the roll-out has been a joke. The NBN has been connected to our multi tennant building for over 6 months, and the install date alters regularly as they cant decide if the technology will work or is even available. Again, this is not a LNP issue, not Turnballs fault, but it goes to show where some of the real issues with the NBN really are. I don’t think they will make the three year benchmark, but they sure as hell will shake the NBN team up, and that is sorely needed.

  3. Anyone else notice how the usual suspect NBN detractors steer clear of these articles and purely focus on FUDding up the positive FttP articles…?

    Pitiful IMO…

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