Labor forces NBN Co back to Senate



news The Opposition has forced senior executives from the National Broadband Network back to take questions from a Senate committee for the third time in a month, as debate grows about whether and to what extent such constant hearings represent obstruction of the company’s work.

Senior members of NBN Co’s executive team have already attended hearings before the Senate on several occasions over the past month. The first hearings were held under the auspices of the Senate Estimates process, with the Senate’s Committee of Environment and Communications questioning senior NBN Co figures such as executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski in mid-November.

Those hearings were largely characterised by non-committal answers from Switkowski to the Labor and Greens-dominated committee. At the time, Switkowski cited the fact that NBN Co had not yet completed its Strategic Review process — which will guide the future of the company — as reasons for not being able to give detailed answers as to the company’s future plans and current status.

Following those hearings, in late November the newly established NBN Senate Select Committee, which at that time had no Coalition members, being solely composed of Labor and Greens Senators, requested senior NBN Co figures appear before its separate hearings. At that stage, the NBN Co senior executive team indicated it was reluctant to attend. Consequently, the Committee compelled the executives to attend.

The hearings were dominated by confrontational question and answer sessions often led by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who took an aggressive stance with bureaucrats from the Department of Communications and executives from NBN Co that verged at times on being offensive to the individuals concerned.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Conroy noted that the NBN Senate Select Committee had scheduled its next public hearing for tomorrow, Wednesday 11 December. It had again invited senior NBN Co executives to attend.

“NBN Co personnel, including NBN Co’s Head of Strategy and Transformation Mr JB Rousselot; Chief Operating Officer Mr Greg Adcock; Chief Technology Officer Mr Gary McLaren; and Chief Financial Officer Mr Robin Payne have once again been reluctant to attend the committee,” said Conroy, who has been appointed temporary chair of the committee in the absence of Labor Senator Kate Lundy.

“NBN Co was given one week’s notice about the hearing, with the committee again changing the hearing date to accommodate an NBN Co board meeting. Despite the committee’s best efforts, NBN Co has informed the committee that it will not appear as requested.” Therefore, Conroy noted, the committee had once again issued an order for NBN Co personnel to appear in person at the committee’s hearing on 11 December.

“It is with regret that the committee has had to issue this summons,” said Conroy. “It follows another summons issued to NBN Co by the committee last month. The previous summons was only issued after the committee went to great lengths to accommodate NBN Co’s existing commitments, including changing the hearing date.”

Conroy claimed the behaviour was at odds with Minister Turnbull’s commitment to more transparency by NBN Co. When releasing NBN Co’s Interim Statement of Expectations on 24 September 2013, Minister Turnbull said: “But our commitment is, our focus is, to have a much greater level of transparency and openness.”

“The committee is investigating and analysing the Coalition’s $30 billion broadband policy and it is expected that NBN Co will cooperate with the committee’s work,” said Conroy.

It is unclear precisely what Conroy hopes to achieve from the Committee hearings involving NBN Co tomorrow. The company has not yet released the results of its Strategic Review, although it is expected to do so later this week. The Committee hearings may pre-empt the release of the Strategic Review report, which will encapsulate all the detail of NBN Co’s future plans.

In addition, a number of the NBN Co executives ordered to attend the hearings — such as chief operating officer Greg Adcock and head of strategy and transformation JB Rousselot — have only been on board with NBN Co for a very short period of time, meaning they may not have sufficient experience with the company’s operations to answer the Senate’s questions.

Matthew Sorell, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide, wrote following the last set of hearings that it was becoming “increasingly clear that politics is getting the way of good policy”.

“Dr Switkowski was in the hot seat on Friday, making the clear point that he is focused on expanding the footprint of the NBN rollout to get it back on track, and this is how it should be,” wrote Sorrell. “But it is unfortunate that the politics of the NBN is sucking the oxygen out of the task of getting the job done, and the blame lies in equal measure with both sides of politics.”

In addition, the reason there is no joint Parliamentary Committee examining the NBN — as was the case under the previous Parliament — is that Labor, the Coalition and the Greens could not agree on how such a committee should be constituted. With their dominance of the Senate, Labor and the Greens subsequently set up a separate NBN Senate Select Committee, which does not involve most of the major NBN political players, because they sit in the House of Representatives.

I am currently disgusted with both sides of politics when it comes to their handling of the NBN. What would it hurt Conroy and Co to wait a few days until NBN Co releases its Strategic Review, as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said it will do this week, before holding the next round of committee hearings? As I wrote several weeks ago:

“The Senate’s move to force senior executives from the National Broadband Network Company to appear before its new NBN committee starkly demonstrates the extreme degree of politicisation which the NBN project as a whole is subject to.

I understand that readers are concerned by the Coalition’s NBN policy. I understand that Labor and the Greens have a job to do holding the Coalition Government to account. But there is legitimate fact-finding and there is obstruction. This week’s committee hearings will fall squarely into the latter camp. They will be of no objective use to anyone.”

I hope you’re proud, Senator Conroy. With your aggressive appearances before the committee last time around, you started to erode a lot of the respect you had built up over the past few years as the instigator of the NBN project. Let’s hope you can show some decorum and reserve — or god forbid, some actual leadership — this time around. Departmental bureaucrats and NBN Co executives are not your punching bag. And it would be nice to wait until the Government actually announces their plans before trying to dig all the detail out of NBN Co’s staff.

Image credit: Kim Davies, Creative Commons


  1. Sad to say, inasmuch as these people are Turnbull’s people, it would have been pretty naive of them not to expect this to happen, after what Turnbull and Fletcher put Quigley through. Pathetic, nonetheless…

  2. I believe it is folly to blame Conroy and others of politicisation when it has been Turnbull who has historically done this to the extreme with the NBN.
    Also how is it going to be destructive obtaining information the general public deserves and is not getting?

  3. Until such time as Malcolm stops acting like a tool then I hope these senate committee meetings continue. If Turnbull would just act straight for once in his life then I would be able to agree with the opinion expressed here.
    Malcolm has turned the NBN into high farce. Let this be exposed by the senate every single week if needs be.

  4. I think the Senate is guaging NBNCo, getting info about the strategic review before it lands in the hands of the public, etc…

    NBNCo executives would do well to make sure the answers they give reflect the information Turnbull has likely redacted from the review or changed in the review to try and fit his agenda.

    It will be a very interesting day tomorrow, find out info about strategic review results, then when the strategic review lands end of week, see if the answers from tomorrow match up with the review itself, if not, then there be foul play afoot!

  5. “Matthew Sorell, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide, wrote following the last set of hearings that it was becoming “increasingly clear that politics is getting the way of good policy”

    Seriously? Has this guy been asleep for the last few years. The NBN has been politicised since it’s inception….and Turnbull was the main instigator.

    As for Conroy…he’s just taking the opportunity for payback for the treatment he and the NBN execs were given over the last couple of years. Sure it is petty, but then again so is the entire parliament.

    In an ideal world, or even a half sensible one, a bipartisan agreement would have given us a 21st century communications network, but true to form we will now be stuck with an out dated hybrid model that anyone with half a brain knows will be a dog’s breakfast doomed to failure.

  6. And so the worm turns. The shoe (or boot ) is on the other foot and the kicked becomes the kicker.
    And one only has to remember Mr Turnbull’s actions both during Committee hearings and in the House regarding Mr Quigley, his what you defined as slanderous comments, (, the ‘enthusiastic’ questioning of Senator Conroy and other NBNCo staff, and the tactics employed in the past to appreciate the amount of ill-will and sense of payback that may be held.
    Add to that the fact that Mr Turnbull is in effect bastardizing Senator Conroy’s creation, a project on which he has spent the last 6 years devoting an extraordinary amount of time and energy, and I think it would try a saint to remain calm and act with decorum at all times.

    Yes it would be nice if all concerned suddenly found a new sense of inner peace and conciliatory natures and acted with due civility and politeness but now? It’s worth bearing the above in mind before being too critical of Senator Conroy for any behaviour he may or may not display.

    With regards to the timing of this hearing, it’s also worth remembering that Turnbull has not provided a specific date for the release of the NBNCo Review. It could be this week, perhaps next, maybe in the new year. As a result the Committee would have been faced with taking a chance (which they may have done) or leaving it until the new year – another month or two away. And I know which option I would take, especially given for better or worse how politically loaded the issue has become.
    In respect to how well the new executive staff will be aware of the finer details of the NBNCo operation? Well they have just completed a review, which they would presumably have been heavily involved in, and they are very highly paid staff, the type of staff who should hit the ground running. In addition they didn’t turn up to the previous Committee hearing. As such I think it’s reasonable to call them, if only to try and gain insights into the review before it is released.

    So – what goes around comes around. As long as the questions and the information sought is pertinent and the process is conducted without ‘too much’ rancour, then I don’t have a problem with it at all.

  7. hey everyone,

    I would encourage people to remember that just because someone displays bad behaviour (eg Turnbull questioning Quigley in committees), that does not mean it’s OK for someone else to display bad behaviour to get them back, as so many people appear to be saying regarding Conroy.

    That cycle is a bad one, and leads to a loss of faith by everyone concerned. We need to recall that the path out of this cycle is for one side to start showing maturity. Only in that fashion can we get to a better place. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    I would also encourage people to recall that quite a few of the people who will be targets of Conroy’s wrath this week have not taken a side. People like Quigley-appointed NBN Co executives. People like Department of Communications staff. They are pawns in this game and being treated poorly by all sides. We should not tolerate that.

    A few quotes about revenge:

    “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
    ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

    “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
    ― Anne Lamott

    “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself.”
    ― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

    • Be that as it may, I am yet to hear of Conroy personally attacking the character of any of Turnbulls mates in the same way that Turnbull personally attacked the character of Quigley.

      And this current committee is being obstructionist, and so they should be. Everything should be done to either slow or halt the damage being done to the nation by the current government, and given the conflicts of interest and the cronyism involved in the appointment of the current NBNco Board, it’s only a matter of time before one of them slips up under intense questioning and allows the truth to come out about Turnbulls and the LNP’s corruption.

      But at least they’re not deliberately trying to destroy anybodys character. The LNP and their telstra cronies deserve everything they get and more.

      • so you think they should obstruct any rollout from happening? wow. bet you then turn around and complain about nothing getting done.

        • I would be happy with it. At least it would limit the damage until the adults are back in charge, which with the way things are going for the lnp, shouldn’t be too much longer. Better late than stuffed up beyond all recognition.

    • Re revenge – Couldn’t agree with your sentiments more. But I think it’s worth remembering not to confuse persistent and strong questioning in the face of deliberate evasiveness or obfuscation with ‘revenge’. Nor to confuse the seeking of facts and truth with purely politicking.

      We shall what we shall see. :)

    • I am not sure why you think Conroy’s behavior is the same, every question he asked, I exceed to know the answer to. Whereas previously Turnbull and co asked all sorts of inane and unnecessary questions which sought only to foster confusion. Further, I felt that the questions to the department which you suggested were aggressive, were aggressive because it was clear as day that they were not being answered but being steadfastly avoided. With the review now in Turnbull’s lap, NBN Co can no longer hide behind the draft nature. They are done with it. It’s now Turnbull who does the changing. Getting answers from them now may assist with teasing it how the tabled document differs from the task situation. Further, given the broad concern about the changes, and the fact that the existing government is hell bent on continuing to act like an opposition and is continuing to use political opportunism to try and define labor suggests that Conroy has little option but to preempt add much as possible future claims of the NBN being a ‘shambles’. Quigley has said this and as far as I am concerned the man is above repute. If you want the politicking to stop, in my view it needs to start with Turnbull getting in with it, doing what he said he will do and act with transparency, and cease using government as a platform for spite, as he did last night. I will watch the estimates, and I have no doubt Conroy’s questions are going to be far more on topic and worth asking than examples from the previous government. There is substantial charge to a popular project underway and from my perspective this is necessary until transparent answers are forthcoming.

    • I would like to agree in principle Renai..

      The problem is as the recent election has shown us today’s voting public neither cares nor believes in the “better man” approach anymore. It’s always the mud slinging/doom and gloom that sticks (just look at how popular 2GB is!) very rarely do you ever remember the positives. I mean all people remember about Howard’s stay was GST, Baby Over Board, Ruining the Telstra Privatisation and “Non-Core Promises”. Let’s forget the man is also responsible for the Gun Laws Australia has today which has reduced most gun related criminal acts. I’m not a big fan of Howard but I give credit where credit is due. But you will rarely see a person who can go past the mud slinging.

      Until the general populace as a whole actually starts to vote based on policy instead of mud slinging I fear there is very little any side of politics can do but resort to the lowest common denominator.

    • Hey Renai,

      “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself.”
      ― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

      Actually a paraphrasing of Confucius some 2500 years earlier!!!

      I would tend to agree with other commenters regarding Conroy – at least he is not just sticking the boot in, he is actually trying to get some straight answers out of this mob…… good luck with that!

  8. We were promised the strategic review 60 days in which has now well passed.
    ” What would it hurt Conroy and Co to wait a few days until NBN Co releases its Strategic Review,”
    How many days are OK in your reckoning?

  9. I take a very different view to you Renai. Turnbull was the one that started the politicking over the NBN. I don’t think conroy is after revenge at all – he’s merely trying to get a straight answer from a deliberately evasive and politicised NBNCo board.

    The nepotism in this government is rampant and Turnbull is the worst offender here. Conroy and Ludlam not only have a right but a duty to attempt to uncover anything going on that isn’t in the public interest.

    Australia should not end up with an inferior NBN purely because Turnbull wanted to play politics.

    It would be heartbreaking to work on a project such as the NBN for 6 years only to have a new government come in and dismantle what you have done. And If Conroy really believes in what he was doing (which I’m sure he does) then it is completely natural to want to defend it aggressively.

  10. All I can say is thank goodness Labor and Greens together have the balance of power in the Senate. There has been absolutely no transparency on any issue with the Government and if the Senate has to force that information out then so be it!

  11. The Turnbull bashing continue ..face the facts the NBN roll out has been a failure Delays overblown budget incompetence by Conroy will all be on display when the report is released.
    But hey keep Kicking Turnbull especially when he has not really announced anything to complain about .
    Btw I am in an area that was suppose to get the NBN last September but the NBN rollout is so badly delayed that areas that were suppose to go live earlier this year are just starting the rollout .
    Nearly a year behind in the rollout at this rate the NBN will be finished when the grandkids are grown up

    • @peter: At least your still getting your FTTP roll out. A huge majority of us have been “wiped off the map”. Including myself. I can handle delays as long as it’s done. So far I’ve gone from expecting NBN w/in 3 years to not knowing if they will still roll out FTTP or will I need to wait even longer for FTTN.

      • We have been taken off the map all together we are surrounded by wireless which Is suppose to be turned on this month but that is being pushed back again.
        Quarter of the town is being done but as far as we know nothing else is going to happen

        • If a quarter of your town is done, then I would hazard a guess and say that the rest of your town is already covered by construction contracts, so whether it is now or late, you will still get what you were going to get. Those people living in areas that had nothing even in the planning stage now have to be even more in limbo. Enjoy the fact that you have more certainty than them.

  12. Conroy might be strongly pushing NBNCo but it is a far cry from the character assassination handed out from Mal to Quigley in front of Estimates a few years ago. There are legitimate questions to be asked, let them be asked. The Liberals got their turn to put NBNCo under the microscope, now it’s Labor’s turn.

  13. We haven’t seen any transparency yet, so I hope they keep asking questions and making them as difficult as possible. If the Blue Book and the NBNCo reports are released in their entirety, then perhaps the Senate Select Committee can take it easy on them for a while. Until then … NO.

  14. Come on guys have a bit of a think about this. Conroy has questions, The review is to be released shortly. We know that the NBN executive is in Turnbull’s pocket. What is wrong with getting them to answer questions “ON THE RECORD” before a senate committee? if the review comes out and backs the government with nice little platitudes and they have lied to the committee Conroy has them by the balls. It is politics. if these bastards are going to force a FTTN solution on us then make them fully accountable

    • One thing Smee,

      When the review comes out, there’s a good chance that it will create more questions, just as it answers many existing questions. Why not ask all the questions in one sitting after the review comes out instead of dragging NBNco execs to multiple sittings with no benefit?

      • There is a reason


        After each senate committee there are a number of article published in both mainstream and tech press excluding News Ltd who ignore it.

        1 time before the Senate = 1 article per publication

        4 times before the Senate = 4 articles per publication

  15. One question I have for people: NBN Co has now been before the Senate three times in four weeks. How regular should this become? Every week? Every second week?

    To me it seems once a month at maximum should be sufficient. After all, the company is also releasing weekly rollout stats.

    • I think the answer to that question depends on how transparent they truly are being. At least once a month would be a basis. More regularly if they aren’t walking the walk. The way things are shaping at the moment, its going to be much more regularly. A one page PDF replacing a lot of other data is hardly a demonstration of openness and transparency.

    • This is a rather special time. Recommendations and decisions are being made right now that will affect broadband in Australia for the rest of the century. How and why those decisions are being made is kind of important.

      Getting the main players on the record now is vital, because at the moment they don’t know exactly what they need to lie about. Once all the reports are in the necessary lies will have become received wisdom.

      The Senate hearing really would be the farce you describe, if only Turnbull had shown a skerrick of the transparency and openness that he promised before the election.

    • In my opinion important questions are being asked at a critical stage in the project. The strategic review is about to be released and due to a question by Conroy just now it has been confirmed this review has been prepared without any results from local FTTN trials being included. These sorts of details are important in judging the quality or relevance of this review when released (if it is). You wouldn’t expect these reviews to continue in such a manner, but at this stage when the project is in huge flux, the more scrutiny the better!

    • hey guys,

      this brings me back to my original point.

      The NBN Strategic Review is being released tomorrow. Don’t you think it’s pointless dragging NBN Co’s senior executive team before a Senate Committee to dodge questions which they will be going into in extreme detail tomorrow, when the document is released?

      Why not hold the Committee hearings on Friday? That would appear to be rational.


      • Which decision came first, the date for the Committee’s sitting, or the date decided on by Turnbull for the document release?

        I honestly don’t know, but I suspect it is more difficult for the Committee to move dates than it is for Turnbull.

        Personally, I would prefer the questioning to be both before and after the release.

      • Renai,

        What would you say/ do if the report is not released tomorrow?

        This is exactly the scenario, that the Senate Committee will be assuming. Turnbull is not a man of his word, I am sorry to say. The release date has already been extended once (or is it twice, now?).

        Also to demand better oversight of NBNco and tighter management, then scoff at the committee effectively doing exactly that just doesn’t seem to reflect that.

        Sure, it’s a political match at this point. Bound to be a little payback, but the committee has to do this as prior oversight just wasn’t up to snuff.

        If we want something to happen. And something soon. Then this stonewalling crap has to stop and Turnbull has to both make decisions and actually act on them.

        We also now know that Turnbull is also seeking Labor documents – it would not shock me at all if tomorrow comes and goes with yet another precondition of Labor releasing the document he is after.

        Again – what would you say if the Strategic Review is delayed? Tell the senate to sod off again until it is?

        • The Committee is not delivering better oversight of NBN Co and tighter management, because there is very little information to be gleaned from NBN Co’s executive management team. Just hauling people before a committee doesn’t guarantee transparency or oversight. You also have to have valid questions to ask.

          The NBN Strategic Review will be delivered tomorrow. If it is not, I will file a Freedom of Information request for it and continue to pressure the Government for its release.

          • In the mean time Conroy is doing what people have elected him to do.

            Is NBNCo being paid by the people? If so, who are they working for, the people or the Lib I wonder?

          • I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the whole Committee hearing, but there were a few gems particularly around the yet to be officially released 2013/2016 Corporate plan.

            For some bizarre reason the new NBNCo doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge it’s existence. So, if they haven’t read the latest corporate plan, and the suggested savings that Quigley has referred to, how is it possible the “Strategic Review” arrive at a true assessment of where NBNCo Mark1 is headed, where it has been, how much it has spent and how much more will it cost.

            Sorry, but this “strategic review” is a duck! Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck…

  16. Renai, I would say when some of the answers start coming. The fact they are avoiding things and playing to a specific but undisclosed tune means that this behavior should be highlighted often, IMO.

  17. I agree, both sides of politics are just handling this poorly. They have been since day 1.

    I am so sick of the he said she said bullshit of our politicians at the moment.

  18. Keep asking the questions weekly until they start responding with transparency.

    The NBN solution should be put through an independent technical committee that has a good cross-section of people with expertise in the field of telecommunication. Technical and business representatives should be present. This should never be decided by politicians with “an agenda”. Elections are meant to be about the policies but the last election was about changing leaders, this government does not have any mandate. A small group of politicians and their mates should not get to set policy for the whole of Australia. Self interest will always win.

    Put a vote to the people just for the NBN solution and we will see if people vote for/against FTTP vs FTTN.

    My five cents…

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