Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has gone head-to-head with one of the conservative Sydney shock jocks he last week singled out as muddying the debate around the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN): 2UE Afternoons host Mike Smith.
(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
Smith landed the first blows this afternoon, asking whether the minister still had confidence in the project given that NBN Co's head of construction had suddenly quit earlier this week in the wake of the company's decision to halt tender processes for the construction of the $37.5 billion network.
"I haven't had a briefing. In a company that I think has 400 to 500 employees now and Mr Flannigan is a senior figure in the organisation," Conroy told Smith. "I don't have a daily running brief from NBN to know who does and doesn't work there or why people come and go," Conroy said, adding that he has no oversight of the tendering process in general.
"It is an entity that is run at arm's length from government. While I'm aware there's ongoing discussions, I don't know who those discussions are with. It's not appropriate for me to be involved in this process on a day to day basis. I'd probably actually end up in jail if I was to be involved in the tender process."
Unable to secure an interview with NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley himself, Smith questioned Conroy on whether he had confidence in the CEO given that he was an executive at Alcatel-Lucent during the US$137 million bribery scandal, outed late last year. Conroy said that Quigley was not suspected of being involved in the bribery, and that he was not surprised that Quigley refused to be on the program.
"[It's] probably because you've spent your time trying to smear. You have made outrageous assertions about Mike that should be beneath you. Mike Quigley had nothing to do with the problems Alcatel had in other parts of the Alcatel business," Conroy told Smith. "Have you apologised to Mike Quigley yet for smearing him?"
Finding himself on the ropes, Smith attempted to call in help in the form of Ferris Smith from Kiama Downs, who had apparently decided not to have his house hooked up to the NBN.
"I thought the NBN was good, I wanted it. I was quite happy," the Kiama Downs resident said. "I said no, because if it were, it would have to come under the paving of a footpath and the big thing that worried me that it would have to go through my drainage. I can only see trouble and I said no."
Conroy rounded out the match by stating that many of the issues affecting installation at the first release sites would be addressed by the $11 billion deal to lease Telstra's ducts and pipes for the NBN fibre.
The debate runs over 20 minutes long, and is well worth listening to. Conroy may complain about Sydney's shock jocks and how they portray the NBN roll-out, but only through taking the argument directly to them will he ever have a chance of correcting what he perceives as inaccurate statements about the NBN.