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Sunday, 15 November 2009 15:59

Minchin's attack on 'Labor mates' maligns Quigley

There are just eight sitting days left until Parliament pulls up stumps for 2009 and our politicians head home for the summer break. And the stakes could not be higher on a number of fronts – not least the coming debate on the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

So, being at the pointy end of a raft of decisions, it is not so surprising that people are starting to get hot under the collar. And the telecommunications reform proposals before the Senate are causing friction all their own.

But Nick Minchin's blistering accusations that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is somehow stacking the NBN Company with "Labor mates" is ridiculous.

And worse, in attacking the Minister, Senator Minchin has managed to miss his target and malign the NBN Co chief Mike Quigley instead. And that's outrageous.

As opposition leader in the Senate, Nick Minchin has already put his foot into things this week via the ETS debate. He is a climate sceptic, a view he is perfectly entitled to, but to air them publicly isn't something Malcolm Turnbull will be thanking him for.

And there have been quite mischievous contributions to the NBN debate, and to the debate on the telecommunications regulatory reform bill currently before the Senate.

The NBN Co's Quigley announced on Friday the appointment of AAPT consultant Claire Rawlins as the company's new chief information officer, and said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s chief of staff Mike Kaiser would become its government relations and external affairs principal.

By Sunday afternoon, Kaiser's appointment was an example of how the NBN Company had become a "dumping ground for ex-Labor Party apparatchiks and mates of the Rudd Government," according to Senator Minchin.

Senator Minchin knows full well that Kaiser's appointment to the NBN Company has nothing to do with the Minister, and is a Quigley decision. He knows too, that Quigley has been nothing other than open and straight-forward in his dealings with Senators through Estimates hearings – an appearance he was not obliged to make – and through two Senate enquiries.

Kaiser's role will initially involve heavy work with Local and State governments, including working to identify utility assets that might be useful to the NBN Co – assets generally held by the States.

It seems fairly straightforward that someone who has been the Premiers' chief of staff in both NSW and in Queensland and knows the machinery well might be useful.

Senator Minchin has legitimate questions and concerns about both the telecommunications reform proposals and the Government National Broadband Network plan – not least about the lack of cost-benefit analysis or a full implementation roll-out plan.

But he appears to have no means of calibrating his aggression, and simply sprays everything related to either issue with the same venom. The result simply does not work.

The public is broadly supportive of government intervention to improve broadband services in Australia. They get it. If Senator Minchin has alternative ideas and policies to drive those improvements, he should start showing his hand.

In the meantime, maligning the well-regarded executive director of the NBN Co is not a contribution.

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