The federal government’s top bureaucrat says NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski knew he would break election protocols when he published a piece defending a police investigation into NBN leaks.
Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has written to Labor’s finance spokesman Tony Burke agreeing the opinion piece published on May 28 in the Sydney Morning Herald broke caretaker conventions.
Burke contacted Parkinson in the days following the publication to complain that Switkowski's words were not in keeping with election campaign protocol for a public servant.
Under the caretaker conventions, public service resources are not to be used to contribute to the election campaign and the government is not to enter into binding decisions in the lead up to the polls.
In his response - available here - Parkinson told Burke some of the chairman's comments were "not consistent with established practices around the caretaker conventions, which are directed at protecting the apolitical nature of government bodies and preventing controversies about the role of those bodies distracting attention from the substantive issues in the election campaign”.
He also revealed that Switkowski was advised he would likely breach the conventions before he published his piece, but the warnings from both the Department of Communications and PM&C were ignored.
However, caretaker conventions don’t carry any legal weight and PM&C has no recourse to take action against Switkowski over the letter.
Switkowski's piece criticised what he called “partisan attacks” and the “circulation of misinformation to diminish an enterprise for political gain” in response to a series of leaked internal documents.
He defended NBN Co’s decision to refer the leaking to the Australian Federal Police, which subsequently raided the office of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and the home of one staffer working for current Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare.