Poor governance and rampant outsourcing are plaguing the communications portfolio, according to shadow Minister Michelle Rowland, who has warned the Coalition government’s intervention into independent entities like the ABC, Australia Post and NBN Co are being “guided by politics”.
In an address to the CommsDay Summit on Wednesday, Ms Rowland said mounting scandals involving Australia Post, the ABC and NBN Co have followed a “slippage in good governance” from both the entities’ boards and the responsible government minister.
“My concern is that, from the top down, good governance appears to be slipping in the Communications portfolio, to the detriment of an expert, skilled and innovative public service, stable Commonwealth entities and outcomes,” Ms Rowland said.
Ms Rowland said Labor is open to reforms to ensure governance legislation and its framework are properly applied in company policy at corporate government entities like Australia Post and the NBN.
But the government must also be more consistent in how and when it intervenes in commonwealth entities, according to Ms Rowland.
The shadow Minister contrasted the handling of remuneration at the ABC, Australia Post and NBN Co, which she said Communications Minister Paul Fletcher had treated differently based on the entity involved and politics.
“In every instance, the mode and manner of his interventions were guided by politics,” she said.
Mr Fletcher wrote to the ABC in May last year flagging his expectation that the organisation would defer a scheduled 2 per cent pay increase, in line with other tax payer funded agencies. Details of the letter quickly appeared in the media.
Ms Rowland said the action was an attempt by the Minister to interfere with the national broadcaster’s independence and “publicly intimidate ABC staff”.
It was also markedly different from interventions at Australia Post and the NBN Co, according to Ms Rowland who suggested the Minister had a “secret deal” with the Australia Post Chair to link bonuses for senior executives with political outcomes in the Senate.
And at the NBN Co, Mr Fletcher “basically got out a warm piece of lettuce and waived it at the Chairman” before $77 million in corporate bonuses were paid during a recession.
The three interventions showed the government is not confident in the boards of Australia Post or NBN Co to exercise proper financial restraint, but there was no consistency in how the Minister intervened, according to Ms Rowland.
“Clearly, relying on ministers to intervene is not going to work because politics compromises their consistency which in turn undermines the independence of Boards,” she said.
“What we need is an improved guidance framework to ensure Boards are accountable for exercising restraint when common sense would dictate that a public entity should do so.”
In her address, Ms Rowland also said communications reforms processes are increasingly ineffective as “consultants reports pile up”.
“Many will have noticed the exorbitant sums paid out to consultants for reports that second guess what the government wants to hear – far from frank and fearless advice – or that duplicate resources, either within or across departments and agencies,” she said.
Ms Rowland said the governance of reform processes are of particular importance because the outcomes often have direct impacts on consumers and industry.
“It is of real concern that successive cuts to the APS have gone so far they now risk portfolio outcomes and that outsourcing in the name of efficiency is, conversely, leading to delay, duplication and waste,” she said.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.