news The Opposition has described Malcolm Turnbull’s support for the decision by NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski to ignore the Caretaker Conventions as displaying “breathtaking arrogance”, and having opened the door for public officials to display politically partisan behaviour during elections in future.
This week 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 yesterday, 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, noting that he respected the decision to ignore the Caretaker Conventions.
In response, Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke late yesterday said Turnbull had given Switkowski permission to “ignore decades of precedent” with respect to the Conventions.
“Mr Turnbull today failed to condemn Dr Switkowski for ignoring caretaker conventions, effectively saying the rules don’t matter,” said Burke. “The arrogance is breathtaking.”
“The head of the Prime Minister’s own department, Dr Martin Parkinson, made clear in a letter to me this week that Dr Switkowski knowingly ignored the caretaker conventions. Mr Turnbull today not only refused to condemn this action, but supported Dr Switkowski’s decision to ignore advice from the Prime Minister’s own department.”
“The Prime Minister has effectively given permission under this Liberal Government for agency heads to ignore caretaker conventions in the future.”
Burke said there was good reason why what he said was Turnbull’s “mismanagement of the NBN” was a live issue during the election campaign.
“The voices that should be heard are those of businesses and households that have put up with long delays and second rate internet due to Malcolm Turnbull’s mismanagement of the NBN – not a highly remunerated Chairman appointed by Mr Turnbull who Mr Turnbull thinks is above the rules,” said Burke.
“Through his comments Dr Switkowski ignored the caretaker conventions with his eyes wide open. There are countries in the world where public officials intervene in elections, Australia should not become one of them.”
I have already stated my opinion that Turnbull must ask Switkowski to stand down from his role as NBN chair, at least during the election campaign period.
It is simply not acceptable for public officials such as Switkowski to intervene in a politically partisan way in election campaigns.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull