ACS defends Quigley's honorary membership

Claims of political motivation continue to dog the awarding of an honorary membership to NBN Co chief, Mike Quigley

Australian Computer Society (ACS) South Australia branch chair, Reg Coutts, has hit back at claims of poor timing surrounding the appointment of NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, as an honorary member of the industry representative body.

Speaking to Computerworld Australia following Quigley’s politically charged speech to ACS members, Coutts acknowledged that there had been some concern among South Australian board members about Quigley’s award.

“It did produce a lot of discussions,” he said. “There was a pretty much universal view that he met the criteria to be made an honorary member of the ACS.

“The view that I took and a number of members took that, if you think someone’s worthy to be given honorary membership, then timing is immaterial. Yes, there were all sort of inferences that it was a political decision, but it’s not. It was a universal agreement that Mike be conferred honorary membership of the ACS and we’ve been planning this Charles Todd Oration and him giving the oration for months.”

Coutts’ comments come after emails began to circulate from the board members, concerned that Quigley’s appointment would be seen as politically motivated due to the proximity to the Federal election on 21 August.

Quigley himself acknowledged the political undertones of his appearance at the Charles Todd Memorial Oration this week.

“When, many months ago, I accepted the invitation to speak here today little did I know that it would be just a few days before a Federal election, the outcome of which will have a profound impact on our industry,” he said.

“But here I am, the CEO of the company charged with building the NBN, which as we all know has become rather a hot political issue. So, I was left with the question, what to do?

“My conclusion was to take a deep breath and just tell it as I see it - without fear or favour.”

Quigley’s speech proceeded to compare the NBN plan to the Coalition’s $6 billion alternative, slamming the latter for lacking vision.

(See Mike Quigley's full speech to the ACS)

Some have also questioned Quigley’s recent public appearances as a potential breach of the caretaker conventions government departments and government organisations, such as NBN Co, are subject to once an election is called.

However, Coutts defiantly defended the awarding of Quigley’s membership, which the former communications guru initiated amongst the South Australian board.

In delivering the award, Coutts said Quigley had “demonstrated very clearly what it means to demonstrate professional leadership in telecommunications and to see telecommuncations as a core part underpinning the entire ICT industry”.

However, questions of ACS’ political allegiances have continued to swirl. The body also awarded communication minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, the same, rare, membership in November 2009, acknowledging the minister’s role in supporting the ICT community in wider public debate, and his driving of key agenda topics like the NBN and the digital economy.

Conroy’s award, too, caused concerns amongst society members, due largely to his proposal for a mandatory, ISP-level filter. In a letter to Fairfax publication, The Age, long-time member Don Gingrich slammed the ACS for the Conroy announcement, causing him to terminate his membership after 15 years.

“The plan for internet censorship shows a stunning lack of understanding of the relevant issues,” he said in the letter. “I'm retaining my membership in the System Administrators Guild, SAGE-AU. It, at least, understands the realities of the senator's plans.”

Coutts said that, while filter was certainly an issue, the ACS looked at the person’s qualities and whether they met the criteria, rather than political motivations.

However, he said political incentives were inevitable.

“When it comes to an election what does a group do? I’ve seen this, I’ve seen [industry bodies are] bipartisan between elections, but when it comes to elections inevitably you can’t really be bipartisan. You have to say, against your framework, this comes closer than that does. It’s like a score card.”

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