news The NBN company join Telstra at an election campaign event to be held by Environment Minister Greg Hunt in his electorate of Flinders in late March, Delimiter can reveal, in a move that further calls into question the NBN company’s independence in the pre-election period.
On Wednesday 23 March this year, Hunt will hold a “community forum” in the town of Rosebud in his electorate of Flinders in Victoria. The event will be held at the Seawinds Community Hub in Rosebud West.
Hunt has distributed a brochure to residents in the area (see above) which states that he is working with the Rosebud community on a range of local issues, including fighting for a pedestrian crossing, working for an upgrade to the Rosebud Hospital, and “securing high-speed broadband and mobile phone coverage for Rosebud families, seniors and businesses.”
The invite brochure explicitly features the logos of both Telstra and the NBN company.
“Representatives from NBN and Telstra Country Wide will be on hand to answer questions about the roll-out of the NBN network and mobile phone coverage respectively,” Hunt’s brochure notes.
Martin Dixon, the Liberal Member for the Victorian seat of Nepean, has also issued an email broadcast alerting people in the area to the event.
“Further to my business forum a couple of weeks ago, I would like to alert you to a community consultation being conducted by Telstra and NBN Co in conjunction with Greg Hunt’s office on the 23 March at 7pm as per the attached,” he wrote.
“One of the key issues raised at the forum was the sub-standard Internet service we still have on the Peninsula. While I was keen to conduct a separate round table discussion on this topic, I felt that this would be an unnecessary double-up on your time, and with the right people in the room, you may well find this forum appropriate.”
Dixon also distributed a separate document produced by the NBN company which outlines the NBN coverage in the area, as well as planned future coverage. You can download the document in PDF format here.
There are appear to be variances between the planned future coverage dates outlines in the document distributed by the Liberal MPs, compared with the NBN company’s public three year plan.
For example, as has been discussed on Whirlpool, the area of Blairgowrie starts construction in Q4 2016 according to the three year plan, yet is slated as ‘currently under construction’, forecast to go live in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the documents supplied by the Liberal MPs.
In contrast, the area of Dromana starts construction in Q2 2016 according to the three year plan, yet is forecast to commence work in the second second quarter of 2017 according to the Liberal MPs’ documents.
This raises the possibility that the NBN company is supplying information to sitting Liberal MPs that is not publicly available.
Last week, for example, the NBN company included a quote from Nationals MP John Cobb in its media release announcing the official start of construction on nearly 18,000 premises in the area of Orange. Cobb is the Member for Calare, which includes a number of regional NSW centres, including Orange.
The NBN company also sent representatives to an event in Woy Woy at which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and local Liberal Member for Robertson, Lucy Wicks, spruiked the success of the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node rollout model in the region.
The NBN company is not technically part of the public service, being a Government Business Enterprise instead. However, the company is still required to hold to the Caretaker Conventions, the key public sector standard which guides the behaviour of the public service during an election period.
The Conventions stipulate that agencies should take a number of steps to avoid advantaging any one side of politics during an election period, such as distributing material which promotes the Government’s policies or using their resources to support any one side. Public servants are also directed to decline invitations to speak at events that may be interpreted as political.
“Officials should avoid publicly explaining or promoting policies during the caretaker period,” the Caretaker Conventions state.
The Caretaker Conventions do not technically apply yet, because the Prime Minister has not yet announced the date of the upcoming Federal Election.
However, all major political parties have started campaigning for the election regardless.