Communications Minister Stephen Conroy this morning laughed off questions about the appointment of Mike Quigley to lead the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co), describing issues raised by his shadow, Malcolm Turnbull, as being a "pathetic" smear campaign and "Godwin Grech revisited".
In a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra this morning, Coalition Senators repeatedly questioned Conroy and Broadband Department Deputy Secretary of Infrastructure Daryl Quinlivan about Quigley's 2009 appointment. It appeared to be an effort to clarify what information the government had with respect to Quigley's past career history at his major previous employer, Alcatel-Lucent.
A number of Alcatel-Lucent subsidiaries in countries such as Costa Rica have suffered bribery allegations over the past half-decade, with the company paying US$137 million to settle the allegations. However, there is no evidence that authorities have ever sought to question Quigley over the matters, or that he was involved.
This morning, Liberal Senators Simon Birmingham and Mary Jo Fisher asked a number of questions about what background checks had been carried out with respect to Quigley by the government and executive recruitment firm Egon Zehnder, which was hired to find a leader for NBN Co. Quinlivan repetitively stated that there was nothing unusual about the hiring process, which saw Quigley vetted by the recruitment firm.
The executive also met with both Conroy (who also met with one other candidate) and senior politicians, such as then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, before he was confirmed in the role, beating out several other candidates.
Conroy rejected criticism of Quigley in the Estimates hearing this morning.
In a reference to the infamous 2009 scandal involving Turnbull, Conroy said that the issue was "Godwin Grech revisited". Turnbull had been "walking up and down" the halls of parliament trying to raise interest in Quigley's appointment, Conroy added.
"I'm disappointed, Simon; I thought you'd do better than this," he told Birmingham when the line of questioning was opened.
Asked whether either the executive or bureaucratic branches of government had asked Egon Zehnder for further information on Quigley than was initially provided, Conroy replied: "I didn't ask for his birth certificate", in a reference to the successful attempts by parties, including Donald Trump, to force US President Barack Obama to produce his own birth certificate.
Conroy described Quigley as "absolutely first rate, a world-class executive" who was "far more qualified" than the other candidates at the time for the role of NBN Co CEO. This claim was backed by Quinlivan, who said that after working with Quigley over the past months, he had concluded that the executive is "outstanding", and that those who worked with him are "acutely aware" of his executive abilities.
Conroy said that the Opposition should be "ashamed" at its "disgraceful and pathetic smearing" of the executive. "Is there any companies or individuals you're not prepared to smear, just to achieve your political ends?" he asked.