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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1032

Senator BARNETT (2:35 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Can the minister outline the selection process that resulted in yet another Labor mate, Mr Jody Fassina, being appointed to the board of the Tasmanian NBN Co. last year? Was the minister directly responsible for this appointment?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you for this sharp and fast question. I think Mr Fassina’s appointment was made when Senator Minchin was the shadow communications spokesperson. I think he even noticed it at the time. In fact, I think he even raised it. There have been some attempts recently to add to the colour and movement in my portfolio area by regurgitating and dragging up Mr Fassina’s appointment. I simply go back to the comments made at the time of his appointment by those from across all parts of the political divide, including Mr Warwick Smith, a former predecessor of mine, who said that he was an excellent appointment, he had worked with him and he was well worthy to be appointed to that position.

So let me be very clear: this was an appointment that was welcomed by those from your side of politics. What we are seeing now is simply an attempt to muddy up a whole range of people who, in Mr Fassina’s case, have not worked for the Labor Party for over 10 years. Equally, we have seen attempts to muddy up quite disgracefully a former staffer of mine.

Senator Barnett —Mr President, I rise on a point of order, on relevance. The minister has just 35 seconds left and the minister has not addressed either part of the two-part question in terms of what is involved in the selection process and whether the minister was directly responsible for his appointment.

The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence the Senate will proceed.

Senator Ludwig —On the point of order, Mr President, if they are going to raise spurious points of order then I will respond. The minister was responding to the question that was asked. The minister has 33 seconds to continue his answer in the relevant manner that the minister was answering in respect of the question asked. What we now have is those opposite rising to make political points or to add to their original question. I ask that you rule it out of order.

The PRESIDENT —I draw the minister’s attention to the question. He has 33 seconds remaining in which to answer the question that has been raised by Senator Barnett.

Senator CONROY —Let me make it very clear: I am responsible for all of the Tasmanian NBN Co. appointments. I do not know how much clearer I can be. I announced them. I said at the time, and this was something that you commented on at the time—and I repeat: Mr Fassina is known and respected by people on both sides of politics. Mr Fassina has a strong understanding of government. As I said, former Liberal minister Warwick Smith said that— (Time expired)

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Following his appointment, Mr Fassina reportedly said: ‘I’ve known Senator Conroy for a number of years and it’s a relationship I’m very proud of. I have a lot of respect and time for Stephen and I am honoured to have been selected by the Rudd government to serve on the board.’ Is it true that when the opportunity arises the minister has no qualms in using the NBN as a vehicle to reward Labor mates?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I repeat: Mr Warwick Smith said about Mr Fassina that he was an exceptionally good analyst, and he went on to say: ‘I was very impressed with him and will be a strong referee for him.’ But the hypocrisy of those on the other side! They had nothing to say when Richard Alston’s former adviser became the Channel 10 lobbyist, when Richard Alston’s former chief of staff became the Telstra lobbyist, when Richard Alston’s former staffer became the Nine and now the News Ltd lobbyist, when Richard Alston’s former chief of staff, Paul Fletcher, became the Optus lobbyist, or when Helen Coonan’s former media adviser, Jane McMillan, went to work at SBS—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy!

Senator CONROY —Or Gary Dawson at the ABC! Do not try and lecture with that level of hypocrisy—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy! When you are being called to order I expect you to respond to the call!

Senator Conroy interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —You did not hear because you were shouting. I was calling you to order so that there can be order in this place, which is proper. You should not be addressing your comments across the chamber and there should not be interjections across the chamber during question time. The time to debate these issues, as I keep pointing out, is at the end of question time. If you disagree with a minister’s answer, you are quite entitled to do that and, if you want to take that disagreement up, debate it at the end of question time. Senator Conroy, you have two seconds.

Senator CONROY —My apologies for allowing myself to be distracted, Mr President.

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note in the minister’s response that every organisation referred to by the minister was a private organisation—none were funded by the taxpayer; none were government organisations or agencies.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Barnett! Order! Senator Barnett, continue.

Senator BARNETT —How many other NBN Co. employees or board members has the minister or other members of the Rudd government recommended or suggested for appointment, as was the case with the disgraced former Labor MP Mike Kaiser?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! On both sides I need order!

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I repeat what I said in answer to the earlier question: I recommended all of them. But those opposite selectively try and pretend that working for the SBS, as the former media adviser to Helen Coonan does, is not taxpayer money. A former prime ministerial adviser went to work for the ABC and a former Liberal staffer currently works as a lobbyist for Australia Post—nothing wrong with any of that. The hypocrisy on that side on this issue is quite embarrassing for them. They have no recollection of what they undertook while they were in government. They continue to try and trawl around and muddy up people in quite a disgraceful way, handing out documents to journalists. Let me be clear—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence!

Senator CONROY —All board members. Let’s be clear: Those opposite are walking around peddling lists of names and addresses. They gave one to Glenn Milne before last weekend. Even Glenn Milne would not write it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, resume your seat! Order!