NBN Co gets Ziggy with it

Ziggy Switkowski may not be a visionary, but he is exactly the sort of corporate foot soldier the Coalition wants and needs to take charge of NBN Co.

The new NBN Co board has now been installed, with no real surprises. With Ziggy Switkowski now at the helm, the 60-day strategic review of the process can begin in earnest.

The culmination to the “orgy of speculation”, as described by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, means that Mike Quigley’s tenure at NBN Co has also come to an end.

So a clean start, a clean break for NBN Co. But the there’s plenty of heavy lifting in the offing.

Ziggy Switkowski’s appointment as NBN Co’s executive chairman had been telegraphed a couple of weeks ago and, with existing NBN Co board members Kerry Schott and Alison Lansley holding on to their place, the Abbott Government has managed to do the bare minimum needed to get its NBN vision off the starting block.

With Switkowski’s credentials put through the ringer in the last couple of weeks, there’s no point dwelling on the issue of whether he deserves the position or not.

Turnbull was keen not to dwell on the finer points of Switkowski’s tenure as Telstra boss, choosing instead to extoll the credentials of the quorum in place.

Switkowski may not be a visionary, but he is exactly the sort of corporate foot soldier the Coalition wants and needs to take charge of the project.

As Paul Wallbank points out in his piece (Can Switkowski save NBN from a nuclear winter?, October 3) the reception to Switkowski’s mooted appointment may have been less than inspiring. But that doesn’t mean he can’t do the job the Coalition wants him to do.

That job has less to do with the actual construction and rollout of the fibre network and more to do with the strategic reviews. That will form the basis of the Coalition’s NBN and the renegotiations with Telstra.

Between Switkowski, Schott and Lansley, Turnbull is betting there’s enough firepower to get the ball rolling as new board members are brought into the mix.

Maintaining an element of continuity on the board was important. In Schott and Lansley, Turnbull has found the two most palatable (from a Coalition perspective) members of the former NBN Co board.

Filling the CEO spot permanently will take time. With the review process now off the ground, there’s no immediate need for Turnbull to press the board on the issue.

What we do know is that the CEO gig is very likely to go an executive with substantial construction experience. It could be Wal King, provided he can extricate himself from the bribery brouhaha at Leightons, or someone like Patrick Flannigan, NBN Co’s original head of construction, whose unexpected departure in 2011 raised more than a few eyebrows at the time.

Owning the NBN

A feature of Malcolm Turnbull’s post-election rhetoric has been his insistence that it’s time NBN Co started owning the project.

The issue of ownership ties in with Turnbull’s message of depoliticising the NBN.  

“I just want to know the facts, not the spin,” says Turnbull.

An admirable sentiment, but just how a Coalition government will digest the plain “unvarnished” truth about the manner in which the rollout should proceed will make for interesting viewing.

The NBN was a political beast and will continue to be one. Rational objectivity was hard to see prior to the federal election and it’s unlikely to make an appearance anytime soon.

Turnbull will be hoping that Switkowski and his companions on the NBN Co board can keep the ship on even keel as they plot their course.

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