Playing the ball, not the man

In responding to comments made in a letter by Australian Federal Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull on the lack of telco experience (as he sees it) on the board of NBN Co. (a Call Out by him), NBN board chairman Siobhan McKenna has run a number of Plays using the Australian Financial Review as her Proxy. (Read the interview with Jennifer Hewitt at

McKenna: keep politics out of NBN board

NBN Co. chairman Siobhan McKenna. Photo: Nic Walker/AFR/Fairfax

As all of us in Australia knows, the National Broadband Network (NBN) is a political football first and a piece of national infrastructure second. Renowned for rarely giving interviews, McKenna clearly decided to run a series of Plays to counter Turnbull’s assertions.

The Play she does not run is the Deflect, the evasion of Turnbull’s comments. Instead she runs a Recast to summarize her view of effective changes to management and a competent roll-out of the project to date, in the face of the tendency as she sees it of politicians tending to play the man, not the ball.

That phrase of course is also a Label, a memorable set of words designed in this case to set Turnbull’s comments within the context of the inevitable political game of football, and as such something not necessarily to be taken too seriously.

Note that using the Label and the Recast allows McKenna to make the point and reclaim some control without needing to be explicit.

She follows with a Mirror, stating that “It is not unusual for company directors faced with threats to exercise their right to appoint external advisers”, seeking to counter Turnbull’s criticisms about NBN Co. hiring a law firm and a lobby firm to advise on a change of government.

McKenna goes on to say that “I think that it is good news for Australian consumers and the business community that there is bi-partisan support for tens of billions of dollars of investment to upgrade telecommunications infrastructure.” This is  clever Trump, designed to usurp Turnbull’s position, with a Recast in support.

She closes with a dual Play, deploying a Fiat and a Challenge to state that “The focus at this point is on finding the right sort of person [to be the new CEO] to lead the company in the next phase. In my experience, search does take several months.” It’s a Fiat because it’s a straightforward declaration of intent, a Challenge because she is challenging Turnbull either to escalate the Play, perhaps to offer an alternative name, or otherwise to back down.

This was sophisticated Playcalling by Siobhan McKenna, underpinned by the rarity value of the interview. Her views, reflecting the board of NBN Co., are clearly stated but with subtly, eschewing the all-out Crazy Ivan of the political style for something perhaps much more effective, and a tad more pointed.




About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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