JASON MORRISON: The NBN boss, Mike Quigley… look, frankly, I’m not surprised at this. For all that’s said, and Quigley’s had his faults, he is a businessman who was asked to run a business… the NBN, a massive business with more money than he’s probably ever seen in his life – billions of taxpayer… a businessman asked to run a business without a business plan. Now, you can’t. You just can’t. You can’t do it and expect to be successful and you can’t run your ‘where are we going to put it?’ based on where the marginal seats are and when the election’s going to be. You can’t do it. Now, this bloke’s a telecommunications specialist, whether specialised enough for this sort of job’s a debatable issue, but who’s stunned? Today, he has announced that he is not just quitting but he is retiring from corporate life. Four years… he’s had enough. The word seems to be that he may well have been forced out. I’ve been hearing from inside people in the NBN that there is huge political manipulation and interference at the moment to the point where it’s unworkable, like a local Member gets on the phone and says ‘where’s mine?’ and so you’ve got to down tools and go out and start building in another electorate. I mean, that’s crazy. That’s not how you ever run anything successfully. So, what happens with Quigley? I assume he probably leaves with the ‘golden handshake’ from the taxpayer. Simon Birmingham is a South Australian Senator who’s looking into this this afternoon. G’day.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Jason, and good afternoon to your listeners.
JASON MORRISON: Good. Thanks for talking to me. Do you think he was sacked? Did he quit? Did he retire? What do you think?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Jason, I posed two months ago a series of questions to then Communications minister Stephen Conroy about the status of Mr Quigley’s employment and whether he maintained the confidence of the Board. It was very obvious then that Stephen Conroy was avoiding saying whether the chairwoman of the Board had confidence in Mr Quigley or not and…
JASON MORRISON: It’s funny how they don’t know that that stands out – if you get asked a question ‘do you have confidence in someone?’ and then you don’t answer it with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ how they just don’t think that normal people can see ‘oh, okay, I know what’s going on here’.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right, indeed and so it was pretty obvious at the time. This, of course, also coincided with much of the news breaking around the asbestos challenges that NBN was facing, so it’s little wonder that perhaps any changes were pushed out a month or two after the news was sort of leaking out of NBN Co that there were further problems internally. The problems really are far bigger than Mr Quigley’s. As you rightly said in your introduction, he was given almost an impossible task to achieve; an impossible project with an impossible budget and timeline set alongside it and it’s little wonder that the targets that were first set down for him got pushed out on multiple occasions and they failed to meet them. There are lots of questions about the cost and the budget being applied and we just see a very meagre number of Australians, measured in the tens of thousands, accessing this NBN fibre today despite the fact that, of course, it was promised some six years ago by the Labor Government.
JASON MORRISON: Yeah. I mean, Quigley’s from a background where he’s built things and he’s been involved in things and he’s opened major international networks and you’d be embarrassed, wouldn’t you, that if you were to draw up where the NBN is in Australia, it’s a few lines, you know, in a few places?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I think he and all of the executives who’ve come through the ranks have just found they really are working on mission impossible here. NBN Co’s seen 14 senior executives and 55 executive-level employees leave the company just in the last four years… nine of the Directors appointed to the Board in 2009 and five of them including the original Chairman have all gone, so you’ve got this revolving door of leadership at NBN Co and I’m sure that has, large part, to do with the political pressure placed on them, just with the fact that they are being asked to deliver a project to a timeline and a budget that is just so unachievable and they all know that they can’t keep going on, with their credibility on the line, saying that this can be done for the cost and the timeline the Government says…
JASON MORRISON: That’s right and for all that… you know, I mean, I don’t want to get into a character assassination of Mike Quigley but, to the man’s credit, he, I’ve just been reminded, once claimed he’d donate his salary to charity. He didn’t need the money; he was doing it because he believed in the project. I just wonder, you know, walking out the door after having dealt with this mob for all this time… hey, before you go, can you remind us how much this has cost us so far?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, it’s in the billions of dollars, Jason, and I can’t give you an exact figure because they only come up in rather hazy ways, the way it’s taken off-budget by the Government. It’s one of the very strange things, that it doesn’t contribute to the annual deficits but there are several billions of dollars in additional deficits over the last couple of years…
JASON MORRISON: Funny, that.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …[unclear] what’s been given to NBN.
JASON MORRISON: Alright, good to talk to you. Thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, mate.
JASON MORRISON: Senator Simon Birmingham from South Australia, Liberal Senator for South Australia.