Quigley broke caretaker rules: Fletcher

Quigley broke caretaker rules: Fletcher

Summary: Liberal MP for Bradfield and former Optus executive Paul Fletcher has asked the Federal Government to explain whether it believes a speech made by NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley during the election contravened the caretaker convention rules.


Liberal MP for Bradfield and former Optus executive Paul Fletcher has asked the Federal Government to explain whether it believes a speech made by NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley during the election contravened the caretaker convention rules.

Paul Fletcher

(Credit: Paul Fletcher)

In a letter provided to ZDNet Australia (PDF) and addressed to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Finance Minister Penny Wong, Fletcher quoted the following sections of the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions document (PDF) that sets down how government officials, including executives of government companies like NBN Co, should behave while the election is underway:

6.4.2 Officials should therefore not use agency resources or their positions to support particular issues or parties during the election campaign.

6.4.3 Officials need to exercise judgement if they are scheduled to speak at public functions during the caretaker period. In the case of controversial issues, officials should decline invitations to speak.

In the Charles Todd address Quigley delivered on 18 August, just three days out from election day, he responded to claims from the Opposition that the $43 billion National Broadband Network project was a "white elephant".

"Far from being a 'white elephant', the NBN can provide an acceptable return for the government," he said. "Taxpayers will get their $27 billion investment back with interest and they will get a network they can use for decades. This is, I believe, a much better option for the Australian public than giving billions of dollars of taxpayer funding to subsidise commercial companies to marginally improve today's broadband networks."

Fletcher said that Quigley's address was "unquestionably partisan" and "in clear breach of the letter, as well as the spirit of, the Guidance on Caretaker Provisions document".

Fletcher questioned the ministers as to whether the government sought advice on the likelihood that Quigley's speech would breach the conventions and questioned what the ramifications would be if the government had believed that Quigley had breached the guidelines.

"In the circumstances, do you consider the conduct of Mr Quigley, as the CEO of a government company, appropriate in the context of the Caretaker Provisions?

"If yes, I would appreciate elaboration of your justification. If no, what actions or sanctions have you or the government taken — or will you or the government take — against Mr Quigley?" Fletcher asked.

NBN Co has denied any wrongdoing on Quigley's part in giving the speech.

"Mike Quigley's Charles Todd address was a long-standing commitment that fell during the election. Mike took the same approach to explaining the rationale behind the NBN, and how NBN Co is meeting the objectives we have been given, that he has taken on many occasions," NBN Co told ZDNet Australia in a statement.

"NBN Co did not make any commitments during the caretaker period that would bind an incoming government, which is the key purpose of the convention."

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Is it reasonable for the Libs to assert that the NBN was a white elephant, and then complain when the NBN chief executive addresses exectly what they had said?
  • The hypocrisy of the LNP knows no bounds. As a leader of the NBN surely he has the right to speak out when inane and uninformed comment is put out as fact. Malcolm Turnbull's rant about it costing $3 - 6 k to rewire as house was just as incorrect and uninformed as the white elephant line. ETHERNET OVER POWER - Malcolm, have you heard of it? $200 tops to set up a house if the householder doesn't want or can't use wireless.
    Now for the hypocrisy explanation - the LNP gets all bent out of shape whenever a leader of a Govt department or Govt Corporation has the nerve to speak out against them, but at the 2007 election weren't they using taxpayer money and the leader of a government department to run adds on how good their Workchoices legislation was? Short memories that lot. Sick to death of their whingeing on the NBN. Get over it Malcolm, the argument is lost, move onto something more constructive.
  • @ Dickster and gnome

    I read your comments and must say they are rather misinformed.

    The whole point of Fletcher's criticism is that there are rules in place and Quigley broke them. You seem to be arguing that the rules seem unfair in some manner and therefore don't really apply. Unfortunately in Australia there is no general unfairness or reasonableness defence to every potential breach of law or regulation.

    The rules are clear- in a caretaker period you keep your mouth shut. This means the opposition absolutely can take as many free hits at them as they want- but then when those hits are on policy, it is up to the government politicians to spend their party's funds to the policy and the deparments- not the civil servants with taxpayer dollars.

    @dickster specifically this means the leader of the NBN does not have the right to speak out when innane and uninformed comment is put out as fact during the caretaker period. Because that would violate 6.4.2. Furthermore if there is divergent views on a particular matter that operates at cabinet / shadow cabinet level then by definition that issue would be controversial and as such any comment made by the head of the NBN would violate 6.4.3 as well.

    You may disagree with the fairness of such a system, but the rules by which Mike Quigely is judged are those which actually existed, not those which you think ought to have existed.