During a tense Senate hearing in Canberra Senator Ian McDonald questioned why NBN Co needed government relations officer Mike Kaiser when NBN Co was the government.
"Your only two shareholders are in fact government ministers and hopefully you would be reporting directly to your shareholders," said McDonald. "I just can't understand the worth of a quite expensively paid government relations person when you're the government in effect."
McDonald then called Kaiser "highly political and manipulative". Kaiser was referred to NBN Co by Minister of Communications Stephen Conroy. Kaiser is currently on a $450,000 per annum package.
Quigley in Kaiser firing line
(Credit: Liam Tung/ZDNet.com.au)
Quigley replied that he was "absolutely convinced of [Mike Kaiser's] worth" and that he wished he had more staff in Kaiser's position. "I wish I had another two or three such people on board," Quigley said. "Frankly, our government relations person is spending much more time on state governments and local municipalities."
Asked whether the selection of the first five release sites on the mainland was designed to benefit the Rudd Government in marginal seats, Quigley assured McDonald that there was "no conspiracy".
"We're much too busy to be playing games about marginal seats, Senator," said Quigley.
But, to the dismay of fellow NBN senate estimates committee member, Labor Senator Kate Lundy, McDonald blamed Quigley's choice of Kaiser for those conspiracies.
"This is the problem when you engage as a government relations officer, a guy who has been up to his neck in political manipulation, rorting of electoral votes," said McDonald.
"What are you alleging?" asked a shocked Lundy. "Don't cast aspersions like that."
"This is the problem you get yourself in to," McDonald pressed on, "when you engage highly manipulative people in these very senior positions."
Lundy warned McDonald that what he said in Kaiser's absence would create for him the right to respond in the Senate. McDonald replied: "I don't think Mr Kaiser would reject any description I have given of him."
Quigley, however, wanted to set the record straight: "I find Mr Kaiser an extremely valuable member of the team. He is providing a lot of value-add to the team."
"And so did Mr Goss and Ms Bligh think he was a very valuable member of their teams, and the central campaign for the ALP committee?" McDonald asked Quigley. "I'm not alleging impropriety of you, but these are the conspiracy theories you generate when you appoint an officer like this."
At the close of the hearing, Liberal Senator Mary-Jo Fisher delivered Quigley a parting shot in preparation for their next run in: "Rest up ... Not."