news Three of Australia’s most senior telecommunications commentators have agreed that NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski must resign or be sacked in the wake of confirmation that he deliberately breached the Caretaker Conventions during this year’s Federal Election campaign.
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.
Following the events of last week, the author of this article, Delimiter Editor + Publisher Renai LeMay, wrote that Turnbull must stand down Switkowski for wilfully flouting the Caretaker Conventions, which have a history dating back decades. LeMay is one of Australia’s most senior telco commentators, with a decade-long history reporting on technology for outlets such as ZDNet, the Financial Review and Delimiter.
Several other senior telecommunications commentators have now added their voices in support of that call.
Writing in Crikey last week, the outlet’s political editor Bernard Keane — a veteran of the Canberra press gallery who frequently comments on matters pertaining to technology policy — wrote that Switkowski’s breach of the Caretaker Conventions was “the most serious possible”.
“If he doesn’t resign, he should be sacked,” Keane added.
In a third piece on tech policy site InnovationAus.com, seasoned telecommunications journalist Michael Sainsbury also called for Switkowski to be stood down.
Sainsbury is known as one of Australia’s most senior and experienced telecommunications journalists, having long covered the beat for The Australian newspaper and other media outlets. During the period where Sol Trujullo controversially led Australia’s largest telco Telstra, Sainsbury was regarded as Australia’s preeminent journalist in the field.
In his article on InnovationAus.com, Sainsbury wrote:
“Dr Switkowski should be shown the door immediately after the poll. Labor will certainly get rid of him, and Mr Turnbull should also but probably won’t. Dr Switkowski of course should save them all the trouble of having to think about it.”
It is likely that if the head of a public department had breached the Caretaker Conventions in a similarly deliberate matter as Switkowski did, ignoring advice from the head of the public service Martin Parkinson, then that public servant would have lost their position.
However, it appears that Parkinson and other senior public service chiefs do not have the authority to sack Switkowski for flouting the election rules.
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.”
Image credit: NBN company