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NBN Co chief Bill Morrow to vigorously defend US lawsuit

The executive appointed to run the national broadband network will "vigorously defend" the actions he took while boss of an American gas company before two of its pipelines exploded and killed nine people.

Bill Morrow was appointed as chief executive of NBN Co by the government in December after stints at major overseas infrastructure companies and his tenure at the helm of Vodafone in Australia.

Bill Morrow from NBN Co appearing before the Select Committee on the NBN earlier this month.
Bill Morrow from NBN Co appearing before the Select Committee on the NBN earlier this month. Photo: Rob Homer

One of those stints was at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in the US, where he was chief operating officer in 2006 and chief executive a year later, before leaving in August 2008.

Four months later, a man was killed and five others were injured in Rancho Cordova after a PG&E pipeline explosion was triggered by a teenager lighting a cigarette.

Two years after that, another pipeline exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people, injuring 58 and destroying 38 homes.

Investigations found safety faults with both pipelines. Hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, compensation and restitution have been paid by the company.


Mr Morrow is named in an unsettled consolidated shareholder lawsuit along with 21 other PG&E executives. The company stands accused of putting profits and bonuses before safety.

The suit was filed by PG&E shareholders, who are seeking the return of "lucrative executive compensation packages allegedly approved by senior management at the same time safety budgets were being slashed".

Mr Morrow told a Senate estimates hearing into NBN Co on Thursday he would "continue to vigorously defend the proceedings".

"When the legal process runs its course, it will confirm that my fellow directors, officers and I acted with care, in good faith, and in the best interests of PG&E at all times," he said.

Mr Morrow brought up the issue with the board of NBN Co and the government before his appointment.

He said parties named in the suit included almost every person who was a director or senior officer at PG&E between 1995 and 2013.

"As the matters are still before the US courts, I am unable to comment any further, other than to make one final important point.

"I regard safety as paramount."

Labor senator Stephen Conroy spent the next hour unsuccessfully attempting to extract more information from Mr Morrow.

Committee chairman and Nationals senator John Williams ruled Mr Morrow could decline to comment further because parliamentary privilege would not extend to US courts.

Meanwhile, it is likely the renegotiation between NBN Co and Telstra for access to the latter's copper network will not meet the deadline set by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in February. Then Mr Turnbull said a deal to replace the original $11 billon access agreement would be done "certainly by the middle of the year".

Sources told the Australian Financial Review this week it was not likely to be finalised until the end of the year.


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