news Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning said he respected Ziggy Switkowski’s decision to breach the Caretaker Conventions during the Election Campaign, and added that the NBN chairman was doing a “remarkable job” with the company.
Yesterday 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 at a doorstop event today, Turnbull praised Switkowski and his actions, stating that the NBN chair was doing a “remarkable job” and had driven a “phenomenal turnaround” at the NBN project.
“The caretaker convention, compliance with it, if you like, is a matter to be determined by, as Martin Parkinson observed, by the head of the relevant agency, in this case that is NBN Co and that is Ziggy Switkowski,” said Turnbull.
“He explained why he made the statement he did, why he felt it was operationally necessary and I respect his decision to do so.”
“You can see the company was being accused in the public domain of very serious misconduct which was undermining the morale of 5,000 people working for it and he health that he had to set the facts straight and he has done that. But you have to remember, he is a very experienced man, Ziggy.”
Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos also backed Switkowski on Sky News yesterday, stating that the NBN chair and Parkinson had taken slightly different interpretations of the Caretaker Conventions.
However, Sinodinos noted that Switkowski might have realised he was walking into a “minefield” in publishing the controversial opinion piece that he did.
Yesterday afternoon, the NBN company issued a statement in which it appeared to argue that as its chair, Switkowski was required to act on behalf of the 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.
Speaking in Perth yesterday 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.
“The NBN Co are doing everything they can with the Government to cover up the facts,” he said. “This is a disappointing sign of the lengths the NBN Co will go to cover up the policy.”
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting