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Behind the NBN raids: hypothetically speaking

By Ken Wolff

On Thursday 19 May the AFP raided the parliamentary offices of Stephen Conroy in Melbourne and the home of a political staffer as regards leaks from NBNCo. Next morning the AFP Commissioner maintained that there had been no political influence on the investigation, nor the timing of the raids, and that the relevant minister, the leader of the opposition, and even Conroy himself, had only been advised of the ‘investigation’ when the raids were commencing. But consider these hypothetical scenes.

The scene: a Canberra restaurant (which must go unnamed) during a busy lunchtime in December 2015. At a table near the window sit a minister and a senior official of NBNCo, sipping their wine after completing a resplendent meal. The noise in the restaurant helps dampen the carry of their conversation.

Minister: These leaks are a bit embarrassing.

NBNCo official: Not for us.

Minister: But you would have to admit it’s not a good look for the organisation.

NBNCo official: We don’t see it as a major problem.

Minister: You do intend to refer it to the AFP, though, I take it.

NBNCo official: We hadn’t thought about taking it that far. We thought we could deal with it in-house and avoid all the negative publicity that a full-blown AFP investigation would bring.

Minister: The problem, though, would be that if it is just dealt with quietly, no-one else will realise the consequences and before you know it the place could be leaking like a sieve.

NBNCo official: You mean like a minister’s office.

(Although intended as a joke, the minister remains grim-faced).

Minister: Any organisation that leaks like a sieve reflects poorly on its management. It wouldn’t do management’s reputation any good. May even harm it when the time comes to move on and they have to seek another position, in another company. It may even hasten the time that a move becomes necessary.

There you have it. Not once did the minister tell the official what he should do; and he referred to the ramifications only in terms of any organisation, not in NBNCo itself, and not to what might happen to the senior NBNCo official but only any senior management person in any organisation in any circumstances that might be similar to the hypothetical situation he was …blah, blah, blah. You get the drift!

Scene 2: a Canberra restaurant (which must go unnamed) during a busy lunchtime … Yes, the same, only now it is a few weeks later and this time it is a minister and a senior AFP officer.

Minister: How’s the NBNCo investigation going?

AFP officer: You know I can’t discuss such things.

Minister: Well, let’s just say that I have heard whispers on the grapevine that such an investigation is, well, possible.

(He had heard such ‘whispers’ from a senior NBNCo official over another quiet Canberra lunch).

Minister (continuing): If such an investigation was underway, how long, hypothetically, would such an investigation take?

AFP officer: Much would depend on the investigation itself and how quickly we can gather sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution. Speaking hypothetically, if we identify at an early stage who the probable leaker is, it could be mostly over in two or three months and then it’s just putting the evidence together for the prosecutor, unless we’ve managed to obtain an admission of guilt — then it can be over quite quickly.

Minister: So if you narrow it down, such an investigation, starting recently, could be done and dusted by February or March?

AFP officer: That could be possible.

Minister: But don’t you need to make sure that you have sufficient evidence and hard evidence? After all, very few of these leakers actually admit to it, from what I’ve seen in the past.

AFP officer: Hard evidence goes without saying.

Minister: Yes, but doesn’t that mean you would need much longer for such an investigation. At least another few months, perhaps through to May or June.

AFP officer: Not in every case.

Minister: I wouldn’t tell you how to do your job but sometimes in cases that may be politically sensitive, I would have thought there is a need to be extra careful, extra diligent in the investigation. Anything less than absolute thoroughness, absolute procedure by the book, could come back to bite you on the bum.

AFP officer: I’m … We are well aware of that in such cases.

The AFP officer is left to muse on the possibilities: on the … sorry, any such investigation and the possibility that a wrong decision could come back to bite him on the bum. The minister hasn’t told him what to do; hasn’t discussed the investigation into NBNCo, just any investigation that may be politically sensitive, and the ramifications … Yes, much the same as last time!

Scene 3: a Canberra restaurant … I don’t think I need to repeat that any more. This time there are two ministers.

Minister 1: How’s the investigation going into the leaks from NBNCo?

Minister 2: I think I have it under control. NBNCo got the message that a referral to the AFP would be the best thing in the circumstances. At least it would clear the air for the organisation itself. And management needed to make sure it was seen to be doing the right thing. We can’t have every Joe Blow deciding what’s in the public interest.

Minister 1: And the AFP?

Minister 2: Obviously they can’t officially discuss an ongoing investigation that was referred to them by someone else but I stressed how important any such investigation might be. And that they needed to ensure that it was thorough and by the book. If that took them longer, then that was how it had to be.

Minister 1: So it should come up in the middle of the election campaign?

Minister 2: It should.

They both chuckle.

For the politically uninitiated, don’t think that this doesn’t, hypothetically speaking, happen. Private discussions that can’t be corroborated take place between ministers, ministers and officials, between senior officials, and, of course, even the opposition can be involved. Such conversations can give rise to ideas and courses of action that have ‘no known’ origin. Such conversations can be purely hypothetical (as is this one) so no-one is responsible for what may arise from it.

It’s a wonderful way to run government with no accountability or, at least, still being able to shift the blame!

What do you think?


Likely even?


This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. David1

    Ken …I can neither confirm nor deny I agree with the possibility of such a likely scenario taking place! ….Stop nudging me elbow! winking eye something wrong with you!

  2. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!

  3. Ken Wolff

    Or as Francis Urquhart used to say in the original British version of ‘House of Cards’: ‘You may well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.’

  4. bobrafto

    My opinion is that it was a botched job and my immediate attention turns to Abbott as the master of botches and I believe he has Colvin in his pocket.

  5. David1

    bobraftoMay …not many here would disagree with that observation Bob, evil breeds evil. Colvin is not a fit person to head that organisation. What AFP Chief would agree with the PM of the day utilising their barracks? Stank then and still does

  6. Cliff

    No one has mentioned that Colvin went to school (Rockhampton) with that lovely now sacked Stuart Roberts. They served in the Army together as officers. What you get with the Libs is always wheels within wheels, they can’t help themselves.

  7. Matters Not

    Private discussions that can’t be corroborated take place between ministers, ministers and officials, between senior officials

    Yep! Been there. Done that.

    ‘Leaks’ made ‘work’ always interesting.

    Called the ‘Art’ of politics.

    ‘You could possibly say that, but I couldn’t.’

  8. kasch2014

    The tragedy is that the Fedpols should even do this. I remember ringing them when I was in Canberra on their “hot line” to report a crime and not being able to get past a recorded message. The Federal Police seemd a joke then, and now they are just one more political bumsucker organisation. This is not funny at all, because there are so many half-whits voting in Oz who still believe that the Murdoch voice is the voice of God. Current politics and it’s various associates are a deadly social disease that must be cured for any useful policy or ethical administration to help us into a livable future. ideas at

  9. SGB

    Interesting hypothetical

    Nah!!! – no way – nobody could be that deviois surely!

  10. Ken Wolff


    You’d be surprised at what goes on in ‘private conversations’ as Matters Not alluded to – just the ‘art’ of politics.

    I will just add that Labor has effectively neutered the investigation with Conroy claiming parliamentary privilege over the documents seized. Whether there is anything important in the documents doesn’t matter. Privilege cannot be determined until the Senate sits again, post election, which means the AFP investigation cannot go anywhere until after the election. So instead of the Liberals being able to use the investigation during the ongoing election campaign, it is now dead and buried for the duration. Another clever political move.

  11. you can't be serious

    Another spectacular own goal by the neo-cons and their enforcers.
    No doubt Labor would have wanted any leaks investigated. Whether they would have done it smarter is the Q.
    If Mr Harbourside was behind this it is not surprising that it has not worked out too well. He has not shown the best judgement in the past, when he is on the scent of discrediting Labor – Grech.

  12. Matters Not

    take place between ministers, ministers and officials, between senior officials

    All true but usually it’s even more complicated than that. Labor and LNP MPs, including Ministers, I’ve known over the years were always keen to point out that their real enemies weren’t to be found in the official Opposition but within their own parties. Thus they were not only always on guard but always looking for ‘opportunities’ to scramble over their so-called mates so that they could advance higher up the political totem.

    And that applied also to ‘officials’ (senior public servants) many of whom are significant political players in their own right. It’s the senior public servants who (usually) are the first contact with the ‘interest’ groups. These ‘interest’ groups are many and varied. Take the Education portfolio as an example. There are the teacher unions (both public and private), the Principals’ associations (primary, secondary and special), ‘subject’ groupings, the academic staff associations, the Vice Chancellors, and the like. Then there’s the parent groupings (P&Cs) both private and public and other interest groups like those concerned with special needs and so on.

    The point being that certain senior officials have close contact with all these groupings. It’s these officials who know the agendas these ‘interest’ groups want to pursue and more importantly they know the ‘individuals’ involved.

    It’s all a heady brew. Add the MSM, and the potential for ‘leaks’ from a whole range of sources to a whole range of sources and the possibilities become boggling.

    The variables, the interests, the bastardry, the … whatever. It’s all very interesting.

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