opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay
20 November 2013
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting
Ziggy Switkowski’s first substantial public appearance since being appointed NBN Co chief executive has starkly demonstrated just how different he is from his predecessor, Mike Quigley, and just how strictly he will adhere to the guidelines which his patron, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has set for him.
Over the four years that Mike Quigley held the reins of the National Broadband Network Company as its founding chief executive, I gradually began to look forward with a certain pleasure to the appearances which the executive was required to make before the various NBN-related committees of the Federal Parliament.
Those readers who regularly watch Senate Estimates or joint Parliamentary Committee hearings will know that the proceedings can usually be best described as little more than a farce.
With a certain limited number of exceptions, these committee hearings follow a very predictable formula. An outside witness, usually a senior bureaucrat or the chief executive of a government business enterprise or authority, is summoned to appear and give testimony. Sometimes it’s an executive or industry representative from the private sector.
Depending on whether they sit on the Government or Opposition benches, politicians will attempt to use their time questioning the subject to score cheap political points on the opposing party, while the subject feebly flails about in a pathetic attempt to defend their own honour. Departmental bureaucrats will usually be accompanied by their Minister, who will fend off the most vicious attacks, and sometimes the committee chair will step in to separate combatants before they claw each others’ eyes out. Sometimes subjects read a short prepared speech before being questioned; it is customary for everyone to ignore whatever is said in this irrelevant precursor to battle.
Occasionally, usually with the Greens or Independents, an MP may make an honest attempt to politely question the subject to get actual useful information. This is usually viewed with horror by politicians from the two major parties, who generally believe such behaviour is a morally reprehensible waste of everyone’s time.
The whole thing inevitably makes me want to puke.