NBN Co considered only one candidate - a former state Labor chief-of-staff who came personally recommended by the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy - for a $450,000-a-year government relations job, it emerged yesterday.
The admission "raised serious questions about the NBN Co's employment and management processes, and the level of political involvement and interference by the Rudd Government", Shadow Broadband Minister Tony Smith said today.
"It is not the job of the Minister to suggest potential jobs for Labor mates at NBN Co," he said.
The Senate Estimates Committee yesterday heard that the Minister was the only person who had raised Mike Kaiser's name as a potential candidate for the job.
"As far as I recall, yes [that's the case]," NBN Co executive chairman Mike Quigley said.
Quigley faced a grilling by Senators after it was revealed the position was not advertised, nor were other candidates considered.
"The Minister had suggested Mr Kaiser's name. Then he [Kaiser] just went into the process with all the other names," Quigley said.
"There were other names referred to me constantly."
He clarified this statement after questioning from South Australian Senator Mary Jo Fisher.
Those other names were "for different positions", Quigley said.
Liberal Senator for Queensland Ian Macdonald stirred the simmering row by suggesting Kaiser's background - which included an episode of electoral fraud in 1986 that led to him resigning his then Ministerial role - was a "slur" that would be passed onto the NBN Co.
"Wouldn't you be wanting squeaky clean people and not people who wrongly filled out an electoral form?" Macdonald asked, suggesting that a background check had not been conducted before employing Kaiser.
"He resigned and paid the part for a youthful indiscretion in 1985 [sic]," Conroy interjected as tempers flared.
"I asked our HR people to go through the process they normally do," Quigley told the committee.
"My questions to Kaiser when I spoke to him [at the interview] were about the job".
"But wouldn't you want to avoid this slur to be passed onto the NBN Co," Ian Macdonald said as parts of the webcast became inaudible due to the rising din.
"The last thing you'd want is to be said you're [NBN Co] a pawn of the Labor party."
"I can't ignore all of the static," Quigley said after order was called for by the committee chair several times.
"But there's a lot going on inside NBN Co. We're involved in a lot of complex negotiations. I simply don't have time be across everything that's being said about the company.
"Since I was here [at Estimates], this was the last place anyone ever raised the subject [of Kaiser's appointment]. And I thought I'd answered the question last time."
Quigley said he was pleased with NBN Co's recruitment progress overall.
He said the organisation numbered 112 people and it was planned to increase to 300 by June.