Conroy's iiNet comments 'grossly improper'

Summary:Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin has called for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to apologise for his criticism of iiNet's Federal Court defence and warned it might lead to legal action.

update Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin has called for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to apologise for his criticism of iiNet's Federal Court defence and warned it might lead to legal action.

Steven Conroy

Stephen Conroy at the ATUG Awards
(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)

Conroy has called iiNet's defence something out of a Yes Minister episode, ridiculing it as "stunning".

Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin and Shadow Attorney General George Brandis said the verbal barrage was "grossly improper" and had the potential to prejudice the matter before the Federal Court.

"A senior cabinet minister of all people should know better. It is totally unacceptable and could prejudice a matter before the court and damage the company's reputation in the eyes of the public," Brandis said in a statement.

The opposition called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "take Senator Conroy to task for his reckless comments and to do whatever is necessary to minimise their impact". At the least, the opposition believed an apology was due.

Brandis said iiNet would be acting well within its rights if it were to seek legal advice about the potential impact of Conroy's comments on its defence.

In the case, the Federation alleges that iiNet allowed its users to download thousands of cases of pirated movies and television shows.

Graham Phillips, partner at iiNet's chosen law firm Herbert Geer, said he was "particularly surprised" by the minister's comments since iiNet had not yet filed its defence and evidence on key aspects of the case, such as whether iiNet users have infringed the studios' copyright.

"This case involves complex facts and evidence, and complicated legal issues, which have not previously been tested before the courts," Phillips said.

"However, Herbert Geer is confident that iiNet has a strong defence and that the court will not find iiNet liable for any authorisation of copyright infringement. We hope that all parties will allow the legal process to run its course. We'll do our talking in court and allow iiNet's defence to be judged by the judiciary," he concluded.

"Senator Conroy's comments were both reckless and irresponsible; particularly considering iiNet was yet to even file that aspect of its defence and has every right to a fair hearing," Minchin said in a statement.

He echoed comments he made on the day that Conroy was trying to get back at the internet service provider (ISP) for taking itself out of Conroy's ISP filtering trial and highlighting its shortcomings.

iiNet managing director Michael Malone agreed that it seemed Conroy's motivation for issuing the slur was to get revenge on iiNet for raising concerns about the censorship plan.

"Conroy said that he has seen our defence, given under oath. We haven't even submitted our defence yet, so I am really worried that he says he has seen it," he said.

The words could haunt Conroy in times to come, with iiNet calling on its lawyers. "We have sought legal advice on this. It's unheard of for a crown minister to try to influence the outcome of an active case," Malone said.

Topics: Telcos, Government : AU, Legal

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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