Mitch Fifield

NBN’s flouting of caretaker provisions, the AFP raids, the secret National Party agreement, Stephen Conroy’s devotion to the network he kicked off — it was all comic fodder for Communications Minister Mitch Fifeld’s speech to a telecommunications industry event last night.

The minister had big shoes to fill given the speech at the ACOMM awards event last year was used by then-minister Malcolm Turnbull to roast Bronwyn Bishop’s high-flying helicopter escapades and George Brandis’ car-crash Sky News interview on data retention.

Hundreds of telecommunications industry, regulators, consumer groups and politicians attended the 10th annual event at the Four Points Hotel in Sydney last night. Fifield, along with Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher, were there for the Coalition, while Jason Clare and Ed Husic flew the Labor flag. Crikey also spotted former Turnbull staffer Stephen Ellis — who has been working for Telstra — speaking with NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski.

Where Turnbull used the event last year to poke fun at his own side, Fifield opened fire on his Labor counterparts. He mocked Conroy, the former communications minister, and former NBN CEO Mike Quigley’s continued devotion to the fibre-to-the-premises NBN.

[AFP refuses to disclose justification for NBN raids]

“[Conroy] and Mike Quigley are in a dark room together somewhere rocking backwards and forwards. Mike, Stephen if you are tuned in, I’ve got some advice: just let go,” he mocked.

For Labor’s communications spokesperson (for now, anyway) Jason Clare, the attacks were softer. Fifield joked Bob Carr was Clare’s mentor, giving him vocal lessons in how to drop an octave when needing to sound more serious.

“Jason, please promise me you’ll draw the line at Bob Carr’s voice,” he said. “I’m going to start worrying if you start talking about a desire for steel-cut oats or for a concave abdomen defined by deep-cut obliques.”

There were whispers in the room that Clare could be seeking other portfolios in the Labor reshuffle, to be announced tomorrow. Husic — who has long ties to the industry — could potentially step into the communications role.

Fifield made light of NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski’s flagrant breach of the caretaker provisions in his strident op-ed justifying the decision to refer leaks from NBN to the AFP.

“Ziggy we know kept a pretty low profile during the election campaign. To be fair, Ziggy did take the caretaker provisions out for a bit of a spin,” he said. “I should formally advise you that the entrances and exits here tonight have been sealed and secured. At the conclusion of this evening, there will be AFP officers. Nothing to worry about. Just a quick search and a few questions.”

[The Australian omits NBN conflict of interest]

The election, at least, had been profitable for the telecommunications industry, Fifield said: “There’s never a more exciting time to be a telco at election time because quite frankly it is good for business. Millions in revenue coming in from those Mediscare robocalls to old ladies at night, not to mention millions of fake Medicare text messages.”

Talk that the Nationals may steal the communications portfolio for themselves didn’t materialise. But Fifield joked the Nats did request a few changes in the “top-secret Coalition agreement“.

“The headquarters of the ABC will move from Ultimo to Tamworth. Fran Kelly and Patricia Karvelas will now host a dedicated country and western radio station: soon to be rebranded Radio Nationals,” he said. On the request of Treasurer Scott Morrison, Fifield said: “The headquarters of SBS will be relocated to its natural home of the Sutherland Shire.”

The third round of funding for mobile towers in black spot areas would also be dedicated to places “where it is just too difficult to catch Pokemon”.

Host Julia Zemiro turned the tables on Fifield, saying it was good to hear he was also the arts minister — but it would be better if he had a policy for the arts.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey