Labor claims NBN Co's Switkowski broke election rules

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Labor claims NBN Co's Switkowski broke election rules
Ziggy Switkowski

Lashes out over chair's raid defence.

The Australian Labor Party has accused NBN Co chair Ziggy Switkowski of breaching caretaker conventions by penning a defence of the network builder's recent raids over leaked documents during the election period.

Opposition frontbencher Tony Burke has written to Martin Parkinson, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, asking him to investigate Switkowski's incursion into the debate.

The conventions demand that public service resources are not used for political purposes during a campaign.

Burke argued the commentary advantaged the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party and represented a "clear breach" of the caretaker conventions.

He asked Parkinson to look into whether any ministers or ministerial staff had any involvement with the piece prior to its publication.

"I am sure that you recognise the importance of ensuring that government companies are seen to be politically impartial and that Commonwealth resources are not used for the advantage of any political party," Burke reportedly wrote.

In the SMH on Saturday, Switkowski defended NBN's actions following the leak of several damaging internal documents.

"When dozens of confidential company documents are stolen, this is theft," Switkowski wrote.

"When they are the basis of media headlines and partisan attacks, they wrongly tarnish our reputation, demoralise our workforce, distract the executive, and raise doubts where there is little basis for concern. The process is a form of political rumourtrage – the circulation of misinformation to diminish an enterprise for political gain.

"Were we a listed company, such activity would be illegal and the penalties harsh."

He said the leaked documents contained information that had been "taken out of context for political gain" and argued publication of the data was "not in the interest of the public".

The leaked documents included an internal progress report that revealed the NBN was running behind on its fibre-to-the-node rollout. Another detailed NBN's intention to overbuild the degraded Optus HFC network, while a third revealed the remediation bill for Telstra's copper would likely be ten times more than expected.

"Contrary to media commentary, the documents did nothing to highlight poor management of the business. There are no 'cost blowouts' or 'rollout delays' to the publicly released plans – all one has to do is compare the data that is readily available," Switkowski argued.

"The documents show progress updates, options to ensure targets are met and ways to solve problems which are all normal parts of doing good business. It's simply wrong to diminish NBN's performance, because such accusations are not supported in fact."

The NBN chairman denied the leaks amounted to whistleblowing, arguing the documents did not deal with the legality or morality of actions within the business.

"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," he wrote.

"We make no apologies for acting in the best interests of the company, its shareholders, and ultimately the Australian taxpayers."

NBN Co has stood down two employees over the affair following AFP interviews with the company's staff and raids on the office of Labor senator Stephen Conroy and the home of a staffer of Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare two weeks ago.

NBN Co called in the AFP in December last year to investigate the leaks after being unable to identify the culprits internally. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said he knew NBN Co had asked the AFP to investigate the matter, but claims not to have informed the Prime Minister or any other ministers.

The investigation is currently on hold after Labor MP Stephen Conroy made a claim of parliamentary privilege over documents seized as part of the AFP raids.

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