news The NBN Company has defended the actions of its chair Ziggy Switkowski in breaching the Caretaker Conventions, claiming that the executive’s hand was forced by the need to defend the company’s reputation.
This morning it was revealed that Switkowski had willfully and deliberately breached the Caretaker Conventions which ensure the political independence of the public service and government companies such as the NBN company during an election campaign.
A letter from Martin Parkinson (PDF), the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke, confirmed Switkowski had breached the Caretaker Conventions several weeks ago with an article defending the NBN company’s actions in targeting whistleblowers, following Australian Federal Police raids on Labor premises designed to track down the whistleblowers.
Parkinson’s letter revealed Switkowski had been “strongly” advised the article would breach the Caretaker Conventions, but ignored the advice and went ahead anyway.
Speaking in Perth this afternoon, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the NBN company was doing “everything they can to cover up for Malcolm Turnbull’s incompetence and their own maladministration”.
Shorten said Switkowski was an “otherwise respectable businessman”, but that he had perpetrated a “shameful breach of the Caretaker Conventions”.
“Yet again, NBN Co are doubling down on the cover-up, on the denial,” he said.
In response to the issue, the NBN company this afternoon issued a statement firstly noting that the Caretaker Guidelines issued by PM&C state: “[government companies] …should observe the conventions and practices unless to do so would conflict with their legal obligations or compelling organisational requirements”.
The NBN company further stated:
“Any accusation that the company’s staff, management, its board and (by implication) its shareholder departments have conspired to keep large cost increases secret from the Australian people is not only plainly and demonstrably false, but is a serious accusation in light of the Corporations act (for example section 184).”
“This is obviously not acceptable and the opinion piece addressed the allegations in a manner commensurate with the mode in which they were made; that is, publicly in the national media.”
Section 184 of the Corporations Act has a number of complex provisions.
It firstly deals with the fact that directors and other officers of a corporation commit an offence if they do not deal in good faith and attempt to faithfully act in the best interests of that corporation.
However, it also deals with the regulated behaviour of employees of a corporation, stating that they are also committing an offence if they use their position dishonestly, or for obtaining information which may benefit themselves or cause detriment to the corporation.
It appears that the NBN company is arguing that as its chair, Switkowski was required to act on behalf of the NBN company in defending its reputation against accusations that it had concealed information that its rollout of the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Model was not going as planned.
The documents leaked by whistleblowers have outlined a range of problems with the Coalition’s version of the NBN, including cost blow-outs, delays to the NBN rollout schedule, concerns about the quality of legacy networks the NBN company is acquiring from Telstra and Optus, and more. The NBN company has consistently questioned the authenticity of the leaked documents.
It is not yet 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.
Image credit: NBN company