New NBN chair Dr Switkowski to 'restore NBN to health'

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has named former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski as the new chairman of NBN Co.

Former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski will become the new NBN Co chairman, after the Cabinet approved his appointment, which was proposed by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, on Thursday.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has filled some seats on his new NBN Co board. Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The rumours of the former Telstra and Optus boss being considered for the position had swirled since before the election, and gained traction when it was revealed in September that the new Coalition government had asked the existing NBN Co board, chaired by Siobhan McKenna, for their resignations. The government received resignation offers from five of the seven board members, and today sacked all but two of the board members.

The surviving members are Dr Kerry Schott, a former staff member from Turnbull's consulting firm Whitlam Turnbull in the 1990s, and Alison Lansley, a partner with law firm Mallesons.

There had been rumours that former Leighton Holdings boss Wal King was approached to sit on the board, but he appears to have been left off the list, as King today has denied claims that he was aware of alleged bribery and fraud at the construction company.

Turnbull refused to say whether King had been approached, other than saying that there had been an "orgy of speculation" around who would be appointed to the board, and most of it had been inaccurate.

"If I comment on Mr King, you'll ask me to comment on the half a dozen of the other people [who had been speculated]."

Switkowski has close ties to the Coalition, and was the CEO of Telstra between 1999 and 2004, overseeing the second stage of the privatisation of Telstra during the last Coalition government, as well as the launch of Telstra's ISP division BigPond. Turnbull said today that Switkowski was appointed for his experience in the industry.

"In appointing Dr Switkowski to the board as chairman, we have appointed one of the most experienced telecom executives in Australia," he said.

"A very distinguished company director and company chairman since he left Telstra, Dr Switkowski is an outstanding business leader."

Switkowski was tipped to be the new CEO, but Turnbull indicated today that Switkowski would only be the executive chairman and until a new CEO is appointed by the board. Outgoing NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley today met with Switkowski to formulate a handover plan.

More appointments to the board will be made down the track, Turnbull said.

Today also marks the kick-off of the 60-day review of the National Broadband Network (NBN) to be undertaken by the new board. This review will look at where the company is at the moment and where it would go under the existing Labor fibre-to-the-premises plan, and where it could go under a change in policy to fibre-to-the-node in many places.

"We need to know what is the state of the project is like right now, accurately," Turnbull said. "Then we need to know what are our options for making it more cost effective."

Turnbull said the NBN has been "riddled with politics", and that the company is now being asked to undertake its own review and give Turnbull the "real facts" to allow the government to make a decision on the future of the project.

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