Resignations avoid sacking of NBN board
Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office is believed to have advised Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to slow efforts to fast-track the mass resignation of the NBN Co board.
Mr Turnbull admitted on Tuesday that he had requested the resignations of the seven-member NBN board but the directors have not yet stood down.
"I asked for their resignations. We had a discussion with the chairman [Siobhan McKenna] and she was very amenable and understanding that the incoming government would expect to have maximum flexibility in terms of dealing with the board," Mr Turnbull told Fairfax Media on Tuesday, adding that the directors' resignations would avoid having to terminate their positions.
Mr Turnbull expects to select NBN Co's new chief executive soon in consultation with the board. The directors will stay on until the cabinet meets on October 4, which will result in the appointment of former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski as the new executive chairman.
Two other directors including Kerry Schott are expected to survive the spill of seven boards seats. Several serving and former construction and telecommunications executives have been sounded out in recent months with a view to joining the board.
Ms Schott was a staff member at Mr Turnbull's now defunct consulting firm Whitlam Turnbull between 1987 and 1990. "Kerry last worked with me in the 1990s, 23 years ago," Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday.
"She does have the relevant experience in the sense that she has been running a large government business enterprise, being a water utility, which is in the business of constructing what can be described as 'linear infrastructure," he said.
Fairfax Media understands that the Prime Minister's office at the weekend advised against accepting the immediate resignations of the NBN board, instead opting for changes to NBN Co to be made in an orderly fashion. This meant having cabinet endorse the resignations at a cabinet meeting locked in for October 4.
Mr Turnbull on Tuesday issued new instructions to NBN Co to start testing copper-based broadband technologies, but has left long-term changes to the project until after a strategic review. The review will be conducted by NBN Co itself, but cannot start until cabinet appoints a new board.
What has since come to light is the resignations were triggered by a request by Mr Turnbull on Thursday to resign.
It was a discussion that would have been hardly surprising to any of them given the barrage of criticisms from Mr Turnbull over the past few months. He has made it clear he has no faith in how the NBN had been run and was critical of the lack of board experience.
NBN Co told the government this week it was revising down its target for premises passed at June 30, 2014 from 981,000 to 729,000. A spokesman for NBN Co said this latest revision "reflects the impact of Telstra's five-month remediation stoppage". Telstra halted remediation work on its infrastructure in May after unions raised concerns about contractors working with asbestos without proper training or protective equipment.
The new statement of expectations replaces the instructions written by the former government, which asked NBN Co to connect 93 per cent of premises with fibre-to-the-premises technology.
Mr Turnbull said he had addressed NBN Co staff and asked them to provide him with "plain unvarnished facts" and that he wanted NBN Co to be more transparent than a publicly listed company.