Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended NBN chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski after it emerged the telco executive breached election protocol and ignored political advice when opining on NBN’s right to pursue the source of damaging internal leaks.
A widely-published letter from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson to Labor’s finance spokesman Tony Burke confirmed that parts of Switkowski’s May 28 opinion piece breached caretaker conventions.
Caretaker conventions, among other things, are designed to “protect the apolitical nature of the public service and avoid the use of Commonwealth resources in a manner to advantage a particular party” during an election campaign.
The practices are generally accepted but not legally enforceable.
Switkowski had opined to Fairfax Media on NBN’s right to call in the federal police to investigate the source of a series of data leaks that embarrassed the company and the Government over several months.
The leaks included data about delays to the fibre-to-the-node rollout and cost blowouts on remediating copper cable.
Labor offices were sensationally raided by police as part of the investigation, and two NBN employees were stood down.
“When dozens of confidential company documents are stolen, this is theft,” Switkowski opined after the raids took place.
“If an employee has strong personal conviction unsupportive of a company's strategy, they can argue their case with management or resign.
“They cannot give voice to their preferred ideology by passing on stolen documents.”
Labor immediately took issue with Switkowski’s incursion during an election campaign, referring the matter to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).
The response to that referral was damaging: it confirmed that parts of the opinion “are not consistent with established practices around caretaker conventions”, and that Switkowski ignored advice from DPMC not to publish.
That has placed renewed pressure on both NBN and the Government.
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