Ziggy deliberately breached Caretaker Conventions


news NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski wilfully and deliberately breached the Caretaker Conventions, ignoring official advice and publishing an inflammatory article defending the NBN during the Election Campaign, according to an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Several weeks ago, AFP officers raided the Melbourne office of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, and the house of at least one Labor staffer working for Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, in an apparent attempt to ascertain the identity of whistleblowers who have leaked a series of key documents from within the NBN company.

Following the raids, NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski published an extraordinary article in the Sydney Morning Herald accusing the NBN leakers of being thieves and not whistleblowers, and strongly defending the NBN company’s record under the Coalition.

Switkowski was appointed chair of the NBN company in October 2013, shortly after Malcolm Turnbull became Communications Minister.

In response to Switkowski’s article, Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke wrote to Martin Parkinson, the Secretary of Malcolm Turnbull’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, alleging Switkowski had breached the Caretaker Conventions which aim to ensure the public service — and government companies such as the NBN company — do not intervene in election campaigns.

This morning, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that an investigation by Parkinson’s office had found Switkowski had deliberately ignored strong advice from the Department of Communications and PM&C not to publish the article, after he had sent the two departments a draft prior to publication.

Delimiter has since sourced a copy of a letter sent by Parkinson to Burke on the matter. You can download the letter here in PDF format.

“I understand from my inquiries that NBN provided an advance draft of the article to the Department of Communications and the Arts,” wrote Parkinson.

“The Department of Communications and the Arts sought, and received, advice from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that the publication of the article in that form was not consistent with the established practices associated with the Caretaker Conventions.”

“I understand that view was strongly conveyed to NBN by the Department of Communications and the Arts, as was the view that the Conventions apply to the chairman, as well as to the CEO and the company.”

“Our understanding is that this view was passed to Dr Switkowski.”

In his response to Burke, Parkinson wrote that he had informed Switkowski directly that his article was not consistent with the Conventions. A copy of his letter was sent to both Switkowski and the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts.

Parkinson wrote ultimately that some of the comments in Switkowski’s article were not consistent with the Caretaker conventions, but that the conventions did not have legal force.

It is not clear what the consequences will be for Switkowski and others within the NBN company who may have contributed to the article or helped get it approved.

Parkinson is the formal head of the Australian Public Service and responsible for arbitrating disputes over the Caretaker Conventions during the election campaign period.

The Caretaker Conventions are a set of rules which aim to ensure that the Government of the day does not gain an unfair advantage during an election campaign by using the resources of the APS in the campaign. They are available online here.

The news represents only the most recent time that the NBN company has been in hot water over appearing to take a partisan position regarding NBN policy.

In Senate hearings early last month, the NBN company revealed plans to hold a product launch just days before the upcoming Federal Election on 2 July. At the time, former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy directly cautioned the NBN company to keep the Caretaker Conventions in mind during the election campaign.

In April, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow made an extraordinary intervention into the pre-election national political debate over the National Broadband Network, warning Labor that it would need “a good explanation” to change the NBN model imposed by the Coalition.

Opinion/analysis to follow.

Image credit: NBN company


      • yup so if LPA win he gets a nice fat bonus if Labor win he’s out of a job (probably still with a bonus … sigh).

      • ” the conventions did not have legal force.”

        True, but Turnbull should be strongly pressured to terminate Ziggy immediately for willfully (and against the “strong advice” of the shareholders) disregarding the repercussions of his actions. It is against the interest of the owners of the company…namely the Australian people.

        • Lol, at what point in it’s recent history has it been working FOR the interests of the Australian public? Hard to tell on that one, certainly a lot less than it was under the prior management. All I know is if you are on node lotto, an upgrade will be needed within a matter of years, not decades as with FTTP. That’s a cost that the LPA/nbn(tm) wilfully overlook whilst desperately trying to make the current clusterf*$k look economically sensible.

    • No! But rest assured he will get a very very stern talking to along the lines of “you naughty little boy!” by the Coalition!

      And he will promise to never ever ever do it again! ever!

      • There are plenty of wet lettuces at Paddy’s Market. Which I suspect adjoins the electorate of Wentworth.

      • No! But rest assured he will get a very very stern talking to along the lines of “you naughty little boy!” by the Coalition!

        I doubt he’ll even get that. He’s a “Respected Business Leader”, the LPA don’t reprimand their own.

  1. Needs to be a formal inquiry into the board and management of NBN Co and the numerous reports and reviews and the conditions surrounding their authorship that have been published in the 2 1/2 yrs.
    (Not looking at Henry Ergas or Kevin Morgan either).

    • Agreed, the fraud from this government and it’s cronies needs to be exposed via a Royal Commission!

  2. Turnbull’s 2016 plan – Let no word out on his failed NBN/MTM during the election.

  3. Jail the bastard and sue him for stealing our money and deliberately sabotaging the economy. Class action.

  4. I don’t think there is any doubt that Ziggy will be the one of the first out the door if the LNP lose the election. If there was any doubt prior to this, this will do it.

    I do believe there is a place in the governance of our country to have a rule that says if you rate greater than a given figure on the douche bag scale you shouldn’t be able to have a job connected to government.

  5. This is the character of the staff overseeing this project; deliberately ignoring professional advice and running national infrastructure into the ground.

    Royal Commission, please.

  6. The damage is already done. Ziggy used/abused his authoritative position to negate the wistleblowers, likely convincing a large number of people that the NBN is going OK under the Coalition. Ziggy knows he will have to do everything he can to keep the Coalition in government, as he will be amongst the first out the door if Labor win. Breaking a mere convention seems par for the course with ziggy. Its unlikely there will be anymore NBN leaks to contradict him, so i suspect he felt safe going ahead with the article.

    [Speculation] I wonder if he sees it as justified given the wistleblowers broke the law?

    • Only under the most obtuse piece of legislation that pretty well everyone agree’s needs changing!

      I dare them to file criminal charges and watch it get laughed out of court!

  7. Surely a glaring indictment on the inadequacy of the existing system. I read that letter by Parkinson as he seems to be covering his ass while giving Ziggy the OK – yes, it’s in breach, but it’s only a ‘convention’, not a law, so how much trouble can you really get in? Hint: a lot less than you’ll be in if the LNP lose the election…

    If there are no laws with actual, real, onerous penalties, the LNP and it’s supporters will continue to do whatever they like. This country is in a mess precisely because there is no accountability. If successive Governments continue to ignore this, this situation has no hope for improvement.

  8. It’s was a simple equation.
    If the LNP win there’s no problem.
    If the ALP win they were all going to be shown the door anyway.
    No downside either way.

    • Bonus points to the Libs who can say the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is neutral…

    • The downside is – its open season on flouting the conventions. One in, all in, I suspect will be the behavior. Why would Labor not exact some retribution if/when they get into power? THe liberals have taken a number of liberties with previously agreed arrangements intended to ensure good government, to the substantial detriment of the Labor party. Unless Labor holds themselves above the muck (and from what I can see, there is limited political benefits to doing this based on the past 4-6 years) then we can expect them to behave similarly, and the slipperly slope just got steep.

      • The Lib’s have already broken convention with the saga that started all of this – the AFP investigation into the leaks.

        Thats always been something both parties have steered away from, so when it happened I said at the time that the gloves were basically off. Its one of those potential pandoras box things where a precedent has been set to use this sort of thing as a political tool.

        For the Lib’s the worst thing of this was the timing of the investigation versus the election. 3 months earlier, nobody cares, but because its happened inside a specific 8 week period, its a different matter.

    • ALP have a much better track record of being gracious when they win office, even to ministers they directly clashed with, look at the appointments for retiring Howard gov ministers for example. If any board members had shown aptitude and weren’t blatantly partisan I could see them sticking around .

      • True….I don’t think Ziggy has a snowflake’s chance in hell if the ALP win the lotto though…

  9. Could you expect anything less from the Liberal stooge who brought us uncapped speed cable internet with only “Three Ziggybytes”?

    (reference is to 10Mbps/512Kbps speed cable plans for $80/month with only 3000MB download limit)

  10. Doesn’t surprise me one bit, most in the LPA feel they are born to rule and things like conventions don’t apply to them…

  11. I cannot wait to see how the LibTrolls spin this. Or if they even bother commenting about it at all.

    • I expect something along the lines of “Nothing to see here, he did nothing wrong”.

    • Besides losing face? Nothing at all…

      It’s not like Malcolm will sack his mate.

      • Exactly, either Labor win the election and he will be fired anyway, or the Liberals win and he won’t be fired.

        It literally makes zero difference.

        • The consequences aren’t for him, but the fallout over abiding by caretaker conventions at all.

          The Chairman of the Board is accountable to the two Shareholder Ministers – Minister for Communications and Minister for Finance.

          Under the caretaker conventions, it comes down to whether or not, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the public servants failed to abide by caretaker conventions the public servant should continue to hold office.

          What makes this more galling IMHO is that the decision to publish was subsequent to requesting advice from the Department of Communications *and* the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPM&C), receiving it, and as it was contrary to how the Chairman, and likely the executive team more broadly, felt completely ignoring it. This is the central difference between Quigley in 2013 and Switkowski in 2016 – the decision to publish was made after advice was requested and received.

          Unless the Shareholder Ministers intervene and remove the Chairman from his position, as recommended in https://delimiter.com.au/2016/06/15/truth-malcolm-turnbull-must-stand-ziggy-switkowski-nbn-chair/ then the future operations of Caretaker Conventions are at stake.

          If this was a lowly public servant and not a highly connected, highly visible and influential public servant, then there’d be no quibbling, that person would be suffering from the outcome of their decision right now.

          • The LPA are above that (and us), they don’t care. there is never an repercussions for their actions and Australia keep voting one of the major parties in regardless.

            Until Australian voters change their voting patterns, things won’t change. People always blame our political class, but we’re the ones that keep putting them there.

            You can look at it as “Free market politics”, unless the “voting market” (us) puts pressure on “voting demand” (what we want our politicians to do), we’ll keep getting the same “voting supply” (our current two party system).

  12. If Ziggy is a public servant, then what he has done is a breach of the APS Code of Conduct and he needs to be sacked. All public servants are supposed to do their jobs and be completely apolitical. Obviously, Ziggy has utterly failed in that regard.

      • Obviously it won’t happen – but if it were someone else, from the lowliest APS1 or APS2 right up to SES Band 2 or Band 3, then the Code of Conduct is what would come into play for misconduct. It SHOULD apply to Ziggy as well.

        The APSC is an independent commission under Prime Minister & Cabinet. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is independent. As they should be. The APS Values and the APS Code of Conduct applies equally to ALL members of the Australian Public Service. Therefore Ziggy should be treated the same as anyone else.

  13. The linked Caretaker Conventions document, like so many similar documents, fails to unequivocally define the bodies that the conventions apply to. Lots of vague references to “agencies” but no enumeration of such, or definition of the bounds. So, is NBN an “agency?” It is certainly not part of the Australian Public Service and it is a for-profit enterprise unlike most of government. Leave a company (and Government in this case) wiggle room and they will use it to their advantage if required. If that company feels it owes the caretaker Government a favour then you get this sort of rubbish.

    • Yes, it applies to them as well, and no, they breached them unequivocally. They just don’t care they breached them, and Malcolm doesn’t either, because Ziggy was putting the boot into Labor. If it had been bad news for for Malcolm, he’d have been all over it…

    • I would hazard a guess that a wholly owned and operated government enterprise, with the only two shareholders being government ministers exercising the shares on the government’s behalf, there would be no wriggle room

      • They have a banner on the NBNCo site that says:

        The caretaker conventions related to the upcoming Federal election apply to nbn. During the caretaker period, nbn is carrying out the current Government’s policies, subject to the caretaker conventions.

        So…yeah, no wriggle room, they just don’t give a flying razoo.

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