“Fibre zealots”: The Australian backs Ziggy’s Caretaker breach


news A senior columnist at The Australian newspaper has backed what he described as Ziggy Switkoski’s “well-aimed” breach of the Caretaker Conventions, supporting the idea that the NBN chair’s action was necessary to deal with “rumourtrage” about the project.

Last 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.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the NBN company of covering up for Malcolm Turnbull’s maladministration of the NBN project, and said the breach was “shameful”, while the Prime Minister has defended and supported Switkowski’s actions.

A number of senior telco commentators have called for Switkowski to be sacked as a result of the breach, but writing in The Australian newspaper last week, columnist Stephen Bartholomeusz appeared to support the NBN chair’s actions.

Delimiter recommends readers click here for access to the full article.

In his piece, Bartholomeusz argued that Switkowski was a “vastly-experienced business leader” and “formidably intelligent”, adding that the release of Labor’s NBN policy last week appeared to vindicate Switkowski’s position that a series of leaks over the past nine months were politically motivated and had little foundation in the “current reality” of the NBN rollout.

Bartholomeusz also took aim at what he described as “fibre zealots” who, he said, dominated the general discussion about the NBN.

It appears that the columnist’s overall argument is that because Labor has adopted some aspects of the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix NBN policy, and because, in his view, some of the NBN leaks over the past nine months were politically motivated, Switkowski’s actions can be justified in defending the NBN company.

However, the columnist does not appear to have considered the decades-long history of the Caretaker Conventions, and the role they play in preventing the public service, and public companies such as the NBN company, from intervening in the political election cycle.

Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke said last week that Turnbull’s support for Switkowski showed “breathtaking arrogance”.

Burke said Turnbull had given Switkowski permission to “ignore decades of precedent” with respect to the Conventions.

“Through his comments Dr Switkowski ignored the caretaker conventions with his eyes wide open,” said Burke. “There are countries in the world where public officials intervene in elections, Australia should not become one of them.”

Normally I quite like Stephen Bartholomeusz’s telco commentary. He’s a very experienced business commentator, and can often see through the spin that the various major players generate.

However, in this case I don’t think his commentary makes much sense.

Part of the problem is that Bartholomeusz doesn’t appear to be aware of the extent of the leaks which have come from within the NBN company. It wasn’t just those three leaks in late 2015 that spurred Switkowski’s response on this issue.

Since that time, we’ve seen at least 9-10 more significant documents leaked from within the NBN company. In his controversial article, Switkowski wasn’t just defending the company’s actions in tracking down the initial set of 2015 leaks … he was also talking about everything since.

And in 2016 alone we’ve seen a stack of new material released from within the NBN company.

The sheer volume of this information militates against the idea that the leaks can be considered only in the light of political motivation. Because the leaks don’t just show that the MTM model has gone off track under Turnbull, and contains significant risks.

They also show, in general, the broad progress of the NBN company as a sum total. And not all of that news is bad. Quite a lot of it is good, in point of fact — even for the MTM.

Then too, Bartholomeusz appears to have mistaken the correct role of the various players during an election campaign.

Of course an official response is needed when a public organisation’s confidential information is leaked, and whistleblowers referred to the police as a result, and especially so if this results in a government policy coming under attack.

However, during an election campaign, it is just not the NBN company’s role to issue that response. The Caretaker Conventions are supposed to prevent that exact situation.

In an election campaign, it would be the role of the Government of the day — not the NBN company — to make that response. This is a fact that Switkowski was warned of — and chose to ignore.

Image credit: NBN company


  1. Yep because we can trust The Australian who own Foxtel based on the data I can see a good reason for them hobbling the NBN

    “Video minutes watched per viewer correlates with fixed broadband speeds. Completely unrelatedly, this is a strong reason for cable companies to want to keep internet speeds as low as possible in Australia.”


  2. The meaning of “Fibre Zealots” appears to be akin to “people who think that globally competitive internet speeds has something to do with Australia’s future ability to be global competitive”.

    Count me in as a Fibre Zealot then. Shame on anyone without foresight enough to be a Fibre Zealot.

    • +1. I’m also happy to be tarred with the “fibre zealot” brush. Shame on me for having foresight that can see past my nose.

      • Let’s say “able to keep up with other developed nations for the next 25 years” to be conservative. I’d rather say 50 years or 100 years but that pushes the argument even further in favour of fiber. Saying 25 years may almost keep copper in the game.

        Quoting from the article you linked to above: “in 2015, when Australia’s download speeds were ranked 49th in the world.”

        49th isn’t great considering Australia’s economic standing and the recent mining boom which left the country flush with cash money.

        May I also point out the following article saying that Australia has dropped down the rankings over the last three years: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-21/fact-check-australias-internet-speed-rank/7509352

        The point is that fiber is far more future proof than copper. There is no way to logically argue against that. It will cost more and require potentially more intrusive excavation / installation to get it done, but as a nation-building project there’s little likelihood of it being “easy”. I’m happy for my tax dollars to get spent on FTTP and all that goes with it, than on FTTN. I’m also happy for the country to go into debt to pay for it, because it should last long enough for it to pay the economy back many times over throughout the course of its life.

        My foresight is longer than yours :)

        • The point is that fiber is far more future proof than copper. There is no way to logically argue against that.

          I’m sure Reality or Mathew could give it a try, but expect some very tortured, circular and twisted logic :o)

  3. However, in this case I don’t think his commentary makes much sense.

    Exactly what I was thinking as I was reading this article.

    Bartholomeusz also took aim at what he described as “fibre zealots” who, he said, dominated the general discussion about the NBN.

    Perhaps he thinks it’s a UN conspiracy, as the entire world is talking about full fibre these days?

    Why is it that when the LPA gets involved, peoples IQ’s drop several tens of points?

  4. The Australian always publishes articles to appease the copper fanboy knuckle draggers. Misinformation is a way of life for them. Given an election is looming the copper fanboy knuckle dragger hive mind senses danger and thus we add just another to the trash pile.

    • Too true Hubert, nothing surprising to me about the liberal party propaganda arm defending a liberal party shill.

      I’d be more surprised if they didn’t.

  5. After they’ve spent years trashing it to defend themselves. Even though Telstra has now not only thieved billions of our money for their ADSL and HFC. They are now dumping Foxtel.

  6. At least it’s only in that online blog, The Australian.
    Pretty sure it’s got a smaller active readership than Delimiter nowadays ;-)

    (Definitely lower quality.)

    When Rupert dies it’s seriously expected to be shut down by the heirs as it’s a failed business and hemorrhages money for News Ltd. If it wasn’t for his vanity it would’ve gone years ago.

  7. After 3.5 years.. They still spinning the same rubbish?
    Guess dinosaurs just can’t change

  8. The Australian?

    “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they…”

    It would have been news (in a “man bites dog” sort of way) if a News Ltd paper had done anything *other* than support Switkowski & Turnbull.

  9. Renai can you enlighten us on the good news NBN stories / leaks you are referring to?

    Apart from FTTP, it is a disaster.

  10. Bartholomeusz is employed by Murdoch/NewsCorp. And he knows who pays him and what the expectations are.
    Unfortunately he, along with many other journos, may try to justify the loss of intellectual and factual integrity in their reporting and articles on the basis of professionalism – that they are just professionals doing a job and fulfilling the KPI’s and terms of their employment. And I’m sure they could mount a credible argument. But if they are prepared to sacrifice/sell out their moral principles and intellectual standards for a weekly pay packet, then in my opinion it makes them little better than the Christian character Judas. Willing to sell a higher good for a bag of gold. And more shame on them.

    Journalists have traditionally been held as disseminators of information, providing fact and at times valued personal opinion to others who may trust them. Not to become the servants of their masters voice and political will, beholden to the weekly payment into their bank a/c.
    The more they sell their integrity for a pay packet the more they denigrate and destroy their own credibility and reputations.

    And of course the corporate PR managers are the worst of the worst. One only has to look at NBN Co and the head of PR @Karinakreisler as a perfect example. Someone prepared to forgo any sense of personal judgement and integrity, someone who is prepared to sell the same for the perception of ‘professional integrity’ and future career advancement. It’s a shame people like that appear (noted ;)) to be so easily prepared to sell their integrity.

  11. I am a Telecoms engineer who has a direct financial benefit in the continued use and operation of the HFC networks.
    Count me in as a fibre zealot, it is literally the end-game here, and any other efforts are ultimately a waste of resources.

    But I mean…..it keeps people employed :P

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