Time for new blood as NBN’s red wedding continues

Summary:It was bound to happen: with Conroy no longer able to protect NBN Co's Mike Quigley, the embattled CEO has called it quits – or so he says. Yet as the Game of Thrones-styled political cleansing continues, can Labor assert its NBN legitimacy?

It is uncanny, in retrospect, how ex-PM Julia Gillard would have come out in late May professing her love for the show Game of Thrones and, later, tweeting her surprise at the notorious ‘red wedding’ scene in which – and I advise you now to click away if you don't want any spoilers – several beloved characters die in horrible ways.

GoT-RobStark
"Malcolm Turnbull sends his regards". Good intentions won't save NBN Co from a pre-election cleanup. Screenshot: David Braue/ZDNet

A month later, now-PM Kevin Rudd’s move against Gillard saw her starring in a political version of the same scene; her statement that “I didn’t expect the grisly end so early” was made about the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, but it rang strangely relevant as her cabinet collapsed around her.

In his conference call to discuss his retirement  with media, Quigley did everything you’d expect to make it look like he jumped, and was not pushed. And while you can’t help but believe that the chaos of the past three months would have had him thinking about leaving the role at an opportune time, the timing – so quickly after Gillard’s and Conroy’s ouster , and months shy of the next election – is just too convenient.

As one after another of her ministers fell on their swords, we saw a political body count challenging that written by George RR Martin. And, once Stephen Conroy left the scene, it was only a matter of time until NBN Co head Mike Quigley followed suit. Conroy just can’t protect Quigley anymore – from Turnbull or NBN Co chair Siobhan McKenna , who has had Quigley’s number for months – and Quigley knows it.

At the risk of pushing the metaphor, Quigley is the Rob Stark to Conroy’s Catelyn – whose last anguished glance across the room said all there was to say. Good intentions will only get you so far: in the cutthroat world of politics (pardon the pun), some things just will not be forgiven or forgotten.

Quigley is the Rob Stark to Conroy’s Catelyn – whose last anguished glance across the room said all there was to say. Good intentions will only get you so far: in the cutthroat world of politics (pardon the pun), some things just will not be forgiven or forgotten.

“The Prime Minister noted that along with his accomplishments, Mike is also known for his energy and values,” that statement read. “These will be crucial as he builds this fundamental national infrastructure for this generation and the next.”

Now, with Quigley heading out the door, things have changed. Rudd's fingerprints are all over this even if he's nowhere to be seen; instead, Conroy’s replacement (and Rudd’s deputy) Anthony Albanese was joined by, of all people, Penny Wong to make the tersely worded announcement.

Penny Wong may be a sharp as a tack and well-respected Labor veteran, but the NBN really hasn’t been her thing over these four years; having her and Albanese announce Quigley’s retirement, rather than Rudd, can only be a way to distance Rudd from his decision four years ago to appoint Quigley.

Intelligent, cool-headed and eminently productive, Quigley has been a capable if not troubled steward of the NBN, and Conroy his ever-protective political benefactor. However, like the last ten seconds of a Masterchef elimination round, the pressure is on and the new-look Labor is cutting its political liabilities in a mad dash to pretty up its NBN story before the election date is set.

This is perhaps the biggest point Labor is now trying to make in the runup to the election: that the party can, despite the claims of its political opponents, be a financially responsible infrastructure builder as well as an ambitious one.

Rudd's fingerprints are all over this even if he's nowhere to be seen; instead, Conroy’s replacement (and Rudd’s deputy) Anthony Albanese was joined by, of all people, Penny Wong....Having her and Albanese announce Quigley’s retirement, rather than Rudd, can only be a way to distance Rudd from his decision four years ago to appoint Quigley.

Quigley wasn’t speculating on the identity of his replacement, even if everybody else is. But whomever is chosen – and I, like many, would suggest it will be an ex-Telstra executive if only to cut Turnbull’s criticisms off at the knees – they will step into a completely new political dynamic that could change dramatically when the election rolls around in a few months.

That means one thing: they shouldn't unpack their suitcase until after the election. I’d wager there is little chance of Turnbull simply leaving Quigley’s successor, if appointed by a Labor government before the election, alone and trying to forge a productive working relationship with him or her later on.

Turnbull as communications minister will want to make sure he can have the same Laurel-and-Hardy, loving relationship with the new NBN Co head as Conroy and Quigley did; the pressure to actually deliver his FttN vision will be too intense to allow for anything else.

Quigley probably won’t be the last victim of the cull that the new-look Labor party is currently running – I’d expect several more NBN Co business-line heads to fall in his wake before the game is through, even though Quigley tried to paint the company as being filled with stable and happy staff – but his resignation will be the highest-profile of them all.

As Conroy and now Quigley have now learnt, the political tightrope they walked around the NBN can drop out from under them at any time. But perhaps Gillard already knew what she was talking about, back in May when she professed she is barracking for Daenerys Targaryen, the ‘mother of dragons’.

Those dragons give Daenerys a marked advantage over her rivals – but, as Gillard noted, “she had to walk into fire in order to hatch them. I’m not sure I particularly want that bit of it.” Unfortunately for her and her supporters, she got it – and a whole lot more.

What do you think? Did Quigley jump or was he pushed? And what do you make of the fact that Rudd was crowing about Quigley’s appointment but has now distanced himself from his departure?

Topics: NBN, Australia, Broadband, Fiber, Government : AU, IT Priorities, Leadership, Networking, Telcos

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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