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Conroy departure leaves the biggest hole

Paul Smith (via AFR) | June 27, 2013
Of all the ministers to step aside from the nascent Rudd cabinet, the biggest hole appears to be left by communications minister Stephen Conroy.

Conroy departure leaves the biggest hole
The Communications portfolio has been completely dominated by the combative senator Stephen Conroy who resigned from the position following the leadership spill that saw Kevin Rudd reinstated as the Labor party leader. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Of all the ministers to step aside from the nascent Rudd cabinet, the biggest hole appears to be left by communications minister Stephen Conroy.

That may seem an odd statement following the resignation of the treasurer, environment minister and others, but they are positions with many more obvious successors than Communications, a portfolio that has been completely dominated by the combative senator.

There will certainly be some in the telecommunications and media sector, who woke up with a wry smile on their face today, in the knowledge that they would no longer have to deal with his hard ball, take it or leave it style ... but his departure removes the face of one of Labor's most successful, forward looking initiatives in the National Broadband Network.

The NBN has copped its fair share of criticism, including on the pages of The Australian Financial Review, but the problems with the implementation of the mammoth scheme should not mask the hugely transformative impact of a courageous policy decision.

Prior to Conroy's tenure the telecommunications debate started and ended with the wishes and whims of Telstra's leadership, but - in concert with Rudd mark 1 - Conroy forced it to the negotiating table and to separation, by demonstrating that he would not be bullied like his Coalition predecessors.

That Telstra has emerged from the initial body blow of being kicked out of the bidding to build the broadband network in relatively rude health, is testament to the virtue in Conroy's vision as much as the steadying influence of its chief executive David Thodey.

His handling of media reforms and the recent Spectrum auction have exposed the fact that his hard line stance does not always bear fruit, but the NBN is his legacy and Rudd will need to pick very carefully when filling Conroy's head kicker boots.

ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
Relatively junior parliamentary performers like Ed Husic are an option. Husic tied his flag to Rudd's mast long ago, and earned a "rising star" tag among technology watchers with his championing of consumer rights in the IT pricing enquiry that took on the likes of Apple and Adobe. But Rudd will have an eye on Conroy's old opposite number, and may prefer a more seasoned campaigner.

A large feather in Conroy's cap is that Malcolm Turnbull has much more public support as an alternative prime minister, than as a communications minister. In the broadband debate Conroy has more than matched the Coalitions' star man, and Labor must now be anxious not to cede any ground in a policy area that essentially won it the last election.

 

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