by Georgina Swan

Kerry O’Brien on his interview with Tony Abbott and broadband

May 30, 20113 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Management


GEORGINA SWAN: I’m Georgina Swan, editor of CIO and tonight we’re on Fort Denison in Sydney, at a HP/CIO networking event.

Earlier, I spoke to Kerry O’Brien, where we talked about interviewing skills and negotiation techniques.

Kerry’s interview with Tony Abbott on the day the coalition released its broadband policy will go down in IT circles as the moment IT became a true election mainstream issue. I asked him about the interview.

KERRY O’BRIEN: The thing to understand about that interview with Tony Abbott is that he, as opposition leader, had made it his business to be at just about every policy launch, big or small, that the Coalition was presenting in that election campaign. And yet here was this massive policy area, with a huge spend — the National Broadband Network — and Tony Abbott was in another part of the country while his NBN spokesman and his shadow finance minister conducted the press launch of that policy.

And to be honest, they did it pretty badly. They were quite unconvincing in the way they presented.

As it happened, I had the interview with Tony Abbott that night, and of course it struck me: “Why was he not there?”

And I think that probably became evident over the course of the interview. He wasn’t there, I suspect, because he wasn’t as confident about the grasp of that policy as he was about some of the other areas. And so, to me, it was about testing his credibility on the policy.

Now some other people talked about it as being a ‘gotcha’ moment; I’m not interested in gotcha moments, and I think in whatever you’re in engaged in, it really is about trying to elicit something new…it’s about trying to…we’re all trying to understand a very complex world, whether it is a particular business, whether it is in our homes and personal lives or whether it is in our careers.

Whichever way you turn, it seems you face complexity. To come to terms with that complexity, you have to try and reduce it to its simplicity. To reduce it to its simplicity, you’ve got to bring a focus to it. To bring a focus you’ve got to have the information and the facts at your fingertips.

GEORGINA SWAN: Kerry also spoke about that whole idea of ‘peak speeds’ and what it will mean in terms of broadband.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Because I had followed what Tony Abbott had said, I had taken a fairly close look at what their policy was compared to Labor’s policy. And it seemed to me that there was a weakness there. That, in what they were selling as a lower broadband speed, the speed that they were quoting of course was a speed that would crash very quickly the more people were using the Net.

So I thought it was a simple proposition, really. It didn’t really occur to me that he wouldn’t really comprehend that. But at the same time, you know, I don’t expect the captain on a ship to understand how every widget on the ship works. But I think that’s a fundamental and I think it was quite fair and reasonable to test him on that.

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