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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8864

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:48): I also want to comment on the 2011-12 report on the NBN Co. Ltd. Fortuitously, I am a member of the joint oversight committee. It met on Tuesday night of this week. Unfortunately, even though it was there for four hours there was still not enough time to fully hold the government to account for what will turn out to be the greatest white elephant ever to confront Australia.

I think the cost at the moment, on my calculations, is something like $60 billion and rising. I think that all senators, and perhaps those listening who did not hear question time, would have been interested if only Senator Birmingham had got some answers to the questions that he raised in question time today. He asked the minister three questions, but one of them was: was it true that 60 per cent of the senior officers of NBN had moved on since NBN started? I think he had some statistics about the number of board members that had changed over since this organisation started.

I can understand that people are very concerned about the way that this entity is operating. Senators will recall that Mr Mike Kaiser, a failed Labor member of parliament from Queensland who had to resign in disgrace over a vote-rigging matter, was actually the first publicity officer—or whatever they call him in polite corporate terms, but he was a publicity officer; I think he was their 'communications executive'. You will recall, Mr Deputy President, that it came out in evidence—this is all on the record—that Senator Conroy said to Mr Quigley, 'Oh, you're looking for a communications officer?' And Mr Quigley said, 'Yes I am'. Senator Conroy said, 'Why don't you have a look at Mike Kaiser?'

Senator Conroy said that he did not know Mr Kaiser, but he did confess to suggesting to Mr Quigley that he might look at Mr Kaiser. Of course, it ended up that Mr Quigley did not advertise the position or call for expressions of interest; he just simply appointed Mike Kaiser, a former disgraced Labor parliamentarian in Queensland, and paid him a very handsome sum. I forget exactly what it was—it is all on the record—but I think it was something like $350,000 to be the communications officer for NBN.

When another person was trundled in in that role a few months back we said, 'Well, what happened to Mr Kaiser? Has he left you?' At the time—I think this was going back three or four months—we were told. 'Oh, no, Mr Kaiser is still there; he's been promoted.' This was to something, as I recall—forgive me if I am wrong—between $400,000 and $500,000 a year, and he had taken on another role. We did not get the opportunity last Tuesday night to ask whether he was still on the payroll, but at that price one would think you would be crazy to give up that position. I know that most parliamentarians can only dream of that sort of financial return. I wanted to raise as well the issue of the rollout in the town of Townsville, where I have my electorate office. There is an area of Mundingburra between China Street, Ross River Road, Nathan Road and the Ross River which has had overhead wires put in. As I said to Mr Quigley the other day, my office phone has been in meltdown—we still have copper wire there—from people complaining about these ugly wires at the lowest level coming through this quite nice suburb of Townsville. The complaints to my office were not just about the visual pollution of these but also about concern for what will happen when a cyclone comes along. The question they were asking me was: 'Does that now mean that when the cyclone comes along and blows over an electricity pole, which now has the NBN wire on it, not only will we be without electricity, which we could overcome by a generator, but we will be without any form of telecommunications?' I am anxiously awaiting a response from Mr Quigley to that question.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.