Friday, November 23, 2012

NBN Co’s alleged lack of telecomms on the board

Malcolm Turnbull’s latest talking point is, to quote his Tweet, that: “there is a woeful lack of telecom expertise on the NBN Co”. Ahhh, you may think, at last, a nut with meat in it, the Achilles’ heel of the government’s oversight of the project, the weak link. And so on.

So what does the NBN Co board look like? I looked here  to check off relevant experience. Everybody on the board spans multiple industries, so this is a very inadequate summary. In essence I have picked out the “most relevant” experience for each board member.

Board Members – eight
Finance / law / corporate – three
Civil engineering infrastructure / management – three
Telecommunications – two

Well, telecommunications isn’t exactly absent, is it? Mike Quigley’s been there all his life, and Siobhan McKenna was in telecommunications advisory at McKinsey, which must count for something.

It’s hardly surprising that the finance-law-corporate experience (people like Malcolm, if you will) dominates: it probably does in most companies. Considering the considerable dollars NBN Co has to handle, that’s sensible.

And the other three board members? They’ve spent time around civil engineering and infrastructure, one way or another.

That’s very sensible.

The NBN is primarily a civil engineering project. It’s about pits and pipes, ducts and digging, lugging and logistics. The cables are comparatively trivial: they’re just what gets installed into those pits and pipes. The cables themselves are worth much less than the cost of the civil works. Even the equipment attaching to the ends of those cables is far less, in terms of the overall cost of the NBN, than the price of the civil works.

It won’t always be that way, of course: today, NBN Co is a construction company; at some point in the future, network operations will dominate. None of the board members are appointed forever, though: there’s time enough to cycle one kind of expertise out of the NBN Co board, and cycle in another kind.

But for now, this large and very expensive construction project is headed by a board which mostly comes from the worlds of “big business” and “big civil”.

Sounds about right to me.

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