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NBN Co execs ordered to Canberra again

A Senate Select Committee has ordered NBN Co executives to attend a public hearing in Canberra on Wednesday, the day before the government is due to release NBN Co’s strategic review.

Malcolm Turnbull accused the committee chair, Stephen Conroy, of trying to ‘‘disrupt’’ the strategic review by demanding NBN Co appear the day before the review was released instead of taking up an offer to hold the hearing on Friday.

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Senator Stephen Conroy asks a question of Dr Ziggy Switkowski, Executive Chairman of NBN Co, during the Senate Select Committee hearing on the NBN on Friday 29 November 2013. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

‘‘Senator Conroy's demand that the executive team attend tomorrow is designed to do nothing other than disrupt the completion of the Strategic Review which, as he knows, will be finally approved by the Board of NBN Co on Thursday morning,’’ the Communications Minister told Fairfax Media.

This would be NBN Co’s second appearance before the committee, chaired by former Communications Minister Senator Conroy, in as many weeks.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the at 'The NBN: Rebooted' conference at the Swissotel in Sydney.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the at 'The NBN: Rebooted' conference at the Swissotel in Sydney. Photo: Kate Geraghty

A spokesman for Senator Conroy said the committee still had questions for NBN Co and had issued the summons ‘‘with regret’’.

Executive chair of NBN Co, Ziggy Switkowski, was questioned for four hours by the committee on November 29.

His colleagues, head of strategy and transformation JB Rousselot, chief operating officer Greg Adcock, chief technology officer Gary McLaren, and chief financial officer Robin Payne were last week invited to attend this week’s hearing.

Mr Adcock and Mr Payne both appeared before a Senate estimates hearing on November 19.

‘‘Despite the committee’s best efforts, NBN Co has informed the committee that it will not appear as requested,’’ Senator Conroy said through a statement on Tuesday. The committee issued an order on Tuesday afternoon.

‘‘It is with regret that the committee has had to issue this summons. It follows another summons issued to NBN Co by the committee last month. The previous summons was only issued after the committee went to great lengths to accommodate NBN Co’s existing commitments, including changing the hearing date,’’ Senator Conroy said.

‘‘This behaviour is at odds with Minister Turnbull’s commitment to more transparency by NBN Co.’’

But Mr Turnbull said ‘‘Senator Conroy's new found interest in transparency is hard to take seriously’’.

‘‘The NBN Co executive team have appeared before Senate Estimates and the NBN Committee twice in the last three weeks. They have offered to appear on Friday after the publication of the Strategic Review, and to meet the convenience of the Senators a public hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday,’’ Mr Turnbull said.

Representatives from the competition watchdog, Department of Finance and Department of Communications were expected to attend on Wednesday. If the NBN Co staff did not turn up their absence could be reported back to Senate, which would then decide whether to take action.

Meanwhile, the government plans to release the strategic review written by NBN Co over the past two months through a lock-up similar to the annual budget lock-up. This will give journalists in Canberra and Sydney access to the documents and NBN Co executives for two hours before it is released publicly.

The Senate Select Committee’s final report is due on 10 June 2014 with public submissions accepted until January 31, 2014.

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