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NBN chairman's rant breached caretaker conventions says public service boss

Ziggy Switkowski was warned against penning op-ed

By Richard Chirgwin

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An op-ed written by nbnTM chairman Ziggy Switkowsky defending the company's handling of leaks breached the “caretaker conventions” that apply during election campaigns.

That's according to the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, in a letter published by Fairfax today.

Following the Australian Federal Police's raid on the ALP's Stephen Conroy and his staffers over leaked documents, the company was criticised for its role in sparking the investigation. That brought Switkowski into the fore, when he wrote that the leaker was a thief and a partisan ideologue, not a whistleblower.

The ALP's Tony Burke immediately complained that the op-ed was in breach of the caretaker conventions, which limit the statements and actions of public servants during election campaigns, and apparently Parkinson agrees.

Fairfax says Switkowski sought the Department of Communications' advice before sending his article to Fairfax, and in a letter obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald (another leak?) Parkinson says it should not have been written.

The letter to Tony Burke says that “in my judgement some of the comments in the opinion piece are not consistent with the established practices around the Caretaker Conventions.”

Parkinson also says “I have conveyed this view directly to Dr Switkowski.”

Moreover, that warning was already given by the Department of Communications prior to publication: “I understand that view was strongly conveyed to nbn by the Department of Communications and the Arts, as was the view that the conventions apply to the Chairman, as well as to the CEO and the company.”

As Parkinson notes, the convention has no legal force.

The investigation is not ongoing: it's on ice until the Senate can settle the claim of parliamentary privilege that means all the documents the AFP seized are now in the care of the Clerk of the Senate until the Senate can rule on Conroy's claim. ®

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