I wrote this oped piece for the Sydney Morning Herald just on two years ago
Saturday, 29 December 2012
Alcatel links that secured Labor power deserve scrutiny
- January 7, 2011
"You do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre." It was an uncharacteristically snappy phrase for Tony Windsor. The rest of his speech on September 7 backing Julia Gillard and Labor was unremarkable.
It was an odd thing for a bloke to utter when he also says, ''I can't even operate a computer. I haven't got one on my desk. But I've got people in here who can.''
Why did he hand government to Labor? Windsor said it was the national broadband network. ''It was the game breaker. If they stuff it up, I get stuffed too,'' he said.
As she sniffed the breeze after the election, Julia Gillard wrote to the independents. ''Would you like a briefing with the chief executive office and director of NBN Co, Mr Mike Quigley? He would be best placed to provide you with the technical information on aspects of the NBN.''
Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter met Quigley on August 31. Quigley had a bit at stake - persuade the independents to back Labor and the NBN and he kept his $2 million a year job. If they went the other way, NBN Co and fibre-to-the-home were cactus.
Quigley seems to have converted Windsor into an evangelist for fibre, and no doubt there were sighs of relief from the executives at NBN Co and at Alcatel-Lucent, the company that has been handed $70 million in NBN contracts and which stands to gain many hundreds of millions more.
When he announced Quigley's appointment to NBN Co, Senator Stephen Conroy said: "Mr Quigley has had a distinguished 36-year career at Alcatel, one of the world's largest telecoms technology and network deployment companies. He was most recently president and chief operating officer of the company, leading more than 55,000 staff and responsible for operations in 130 countries."
Alcatel claims it is the word's leading provider of fixed broadband services. But the world is going mobile and Alcatel-Lucent is being left behind. It needs more fixed broadband business.
This is not a story just about broadband. By convincing Windsor and Oakeshott, Quigley's presentation skills may also have determined who was to govern Australia.
It is worth looking at the history of Alcatel under the leadership of Quigley and his chief financial officer, Jean-Pascal Beaufret.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission says that Alcatel, with Quigley as president and chief operating officer, paid bribes to win business. Alcatel has been fined $137 million for corrupt practices.
A US court document says the heads of several Alcatel subsidiaries and regional bosses, some of whom reported to Alcatel's executive committee, authorised high commission payments and so they knew, or were reckless in not knowing, that Alcatel paid bribes to foreign officials.
NBN Co says that neither Quigley nor Beaufret ''had any involvement in the matters that were the subject of the SEC announcement'' and the actions of individual employees ''fell outside the accountability and jurisdiction'' of Quigley and Beaufret.
Really? The SEC says that Alcatel was run by an executive committee made up of senior officers including the chief executive and chief financial officer.
In every bribery scheme in the complaint, the head of the relevant subsidiaries and geographic regions were aware of or ignored indications that employees were using consultants to pay bribes to foreign officials.
The offences for which Alcatel has been fined happened because of lax management - like the lax management that led to waste in the Building the Education Revolution scheme, and the waste, deaths and house fires in the roof insulation scandal.
There is a common thread here - big talk, big vision, big future promises, happy days - then a culture of slackness and lax management, rorts and, in Alcatel's case, bribes and crimes. There are enough links between Labor, NBN Co and Alcatel to raise serious questions.
In November 2009 Conroy's then media adviser, Tim Marshall, accepted a position with Alcatel-Lucent Australia as its external affairs director - before Alcatel was awarded its first contract for the network.
Conroy personally recommended the Labor figure Mike Kaiser for the $450,000 job as government relations manager at NBN Co - a job that was never advertised.
Conroy said he was not a close friend of Kaiser. Kaiser was state secretary of the Queensland division of the Labor Party and was elected as an MP in that state's parliament in 2000. Kaiser appointed Conroy to scrutinise for him during vote counting at his election. Kaiser later resigned his seat after being named in a Criminal Justice commission report into electoral rorting.
Kaiser went on to be the chief-of-staff for the NSW premier before moving back to a similar position for Anna Bligh in Queensland.
We'll never know whether Windsor would have handed government to Gillard if he had known about Alcatel-Lucent's history or its links to Labor in Australia. But there are questions to be answered about the whole NBN business.
Mike Smith is Fairfax Radio's 2UE drive time presenter. He has held senior executive positions in the telecommunications industry.