news The NBN company has denied that its launch yesterday of its new HFC cable network breaches the election campaign Caretaker Conventions, despite the company promoting the Coalition-backed technology in the uber-marginal seat of Petrie.
Labor’s original plan for the National Broadband Network saw the project building a near-universal Fibre to the Premises network around Australia. However, since taking power in September 2013, the Coalition has integrated the legacy HFC cable and copper networks owned by Telstra and Optus.
Yesterday morning the NBN company formally launched commercial services on its HFC cable infrastructure.
The launch means that homes and businesses in the Redcliffe area in Queensland are now able to order an NBN service based on the company’s HFC cable network in the area.
Yesterday Delimiter raised the issue that the launch may breach the Caretaker Conventions which govern the behaviour of government departments and publicly-owned companies such as the NBN company.
The Conventions (available online) place strict limitations on issues such as advertising campaigns carried out during the election campaign, using government premises to promote particular policies. They state, for example:
“Officials should not use agency resources or their positions to support particular issues or parties during the election campaign … Officials need to exercise judgment if they are scheduled to speak at public functions during the caretaker period.”
“In the case of controversial issues, officials should decline invitations to speak. In the case of non-controversial issues, officials may speak, but should explain that the Government is in caretaker mode and that they will limit their statements to factual issues and matters of administration. Officials should avoid publicly explaining or promoting policies during the caretaker period.”
In response to the issue, NBN executive general manager of corporate affairs Karina Keisler said on Twitter that the launch was “not a breach” of the Caretaker Conventions.
@renailemay It is not a breach of caretaker conventions. No such note required.
— karina keisler (@karinakeisler) June 30, 2016
Keisler stated that the NBN company had flagged the launch in its product roadmap released in January. “We work to deliver on our targets,” the executive said. “It’s good business.”
Delimiter further questioned Keisler on why the NBN company could not have simply moved the launch ahead until after the election — holding it on Tuesday next week, for example.
“[The] roadmap said June,” said Keisler in response. “Tuesday is July. I’d rather be accused of meeting deadlines than delays.”
“Call me crazy.”
Delimiter further questioned Keisler as to why the NBN company could not have merely issued a statement noting that the HFC launch had been delayed until after the election to avoid breaching the Caretaker Conventions. However, the executive did not respond to the question.
The launch has particular significance in Redcliffe, because the area is part of Petrie, a highly marginal seat held by local MP Luke Howarth only since the last election in 2013, when the LNP MP won the seat by a tiny 0.5 percent margin.
Any swing back to Labor or possibly even the Greens would be likely to wreak havoc with Howarth’s chances of retaining Petrie in this year’s election.
Delimiter has been told that the NBN company is promoting the HFC cable option to residents in Redcliffe, but has not been able to verify if the company is sending out text messages, emails and letterbox drops, as has been claimed by sources.
Other government organisations, such as the Australian Taxation Office, have taken direct action to avoid breaching the Caretaker Conventions during the campaign.
The NBN company has already formally breached the Caretaker Conventions during this election period once; in the publication of an article by its chair Ziggy Switkowski which defended the company’s actions in tracking down whistleblowers.
At the time, Switkowski was formally advised by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, that the article would breach the Conventions. Despite the advice, Switkowski went ahead with publication.
The NBN company has also taken action which could be viewed as partisan during previous election campaigns.
In 2010, for example, then-NBN chief executive Mike Quigley attracted heavy criticism for announcing during that year’s campaign that the NBN network was capable of 1Gbps speeds, and heavily criticising the Coalition’s own broadband policy.
And during the 2013 Election Campaign, the NBN company again came under fire for collaborating with the Labor Government to host a series of launches nationally for the company’s Fibre to the Premises service.
The far safer course of action for the NBN company would have been to delay this launch until next week. I would have thought that would have been obvious to anyone. However, much that is obvious seems to defeat the reasoning powers of some at the NBN company.
Image credit: NBN company