Turnbull defends alleged conflict of interest

“They should actually be praising me” for being honest, says opposition communications minister

Federal shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has been forced to defend potential conflicts of interest between private investments and his argument over the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The criticisms, from infrastructure minister, Anthony Albanese, centre around Turnbull’s private stake in Web hosting company Melbourne IT where his wife, Lucy Turnbull, is also a director. Albanese alleged that while Turnbull publicly criticised the fibre-to-the-home network, his private investments in the company would in fact benefit from the NBN going ahead.

However, Turnbull disregarded the criticisms and argued he should be in fact be congratulated for being honest about his private interests.

“[Albanese is] actually saying I should put my mouth where my money is,” Turnbull told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio in Sydney this week.

"If the proposition is that that company would benefit from the establishment of the NBN then I would have thought the fact that I am holding the NBN up to account and endeavouring to stop $43 billion being wasted would just show that I am a person of great integrity whose personal investments don’t influence his public policy,” he said.

In a statement of registrable interests to Parliament last month, Turnbull outlined the directorship in Melbourne IT held by his wife, as well as interests in ISYS Search Software.

However, the declaration did not outline how many shares, or the value of the shares held by Malcolm Turnbull in Melbourne IT.

A spokesperson confirmed the MP's portfolio included 5.4 million shares, worth approximately $10 million.

“There are people on the Labor side with shares in Telstra," Turnbull said. "I haven’t stood up and said, ‘They are only doing this because it will deliver $11 billion into Telstra’s pockets’.

“You would have to say they should be giving me a compliment for great integrity.”

Lucy Turnbull has held her role as a director on the Melbourne IT board since 2006 when the Web hosting company acquired WebCentral Group, where she had also held a chairmanship.

The criticisms come after Malcolm Turnbull and Anthony Albanese came at heads last week over the Telstra separation bill, which narrowly passed the House of Representatives without the coalition’s proposed amendments.

Malcolm Turnbull’s own history in the IT industry prior to his political career is well known, having been involved in several software companies and helping to co-found service provider Ozemail during the 1990s.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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