Minchin will take Conroy down

Summary:The appointment of Nick Minchin as shadow communications minister is a bald-faced attempt to wipe Stephen Conroy off the face of the earth; and it will probably succeed.

renai-lemay-zdnet-australia

ZDNet.com.au
news editor
Renai LeMay

commentary There is no doubt that Stephen Conroy is headed for a fall ... or at least a few stumbles.

The courageous Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has had a relatively smooth ride since cruising into the top-level portfolio on the back of the National Broadband Network policy which helped Labor win power.

His chief parliamentary opponent, the blustering Shadow Minister Bruce Frederick Billson, generally hasn't been able to capitalise on the delayed, confusing and potentially destructive mess that the NBN tender effort has become over the last nine months.

Hell, Billson isn't even a member of the Senate and thus couldn't directly attack Conroy on his home ground.

Conroy has rarely had to directly rebut any of Billson's attacks, which have sometimes verged on the satirical.

When the minister has come down from his ivory tower, he has usually done so through his press secretary, claiming the moral high ground by citing the importance of the NBN to Australia's economic future and other lofty but vacuous ideals which haven't done much to reassure the telecommunications industry or address the real issues still surrounding the project.

Stephen Conroy
(Credit: Conroy's office)

This will all change with Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull's move yesterday to dump Billson and appoint party heavyweight and long-time Howard minister Nick Minchin in his place.

This is a bald-faced attempt by Turnbull to wipe Conroy off the face of the earth and take control of the communications portfolio, a previously neglected area which has vaulted to the top of the public's consciousness with the popularity of the NBN policy.

To be honest, it shouldn't be too hard.

Conroy is 45 years old and a staunch member of Labor's right faction and former union organiser, and only held one other (junior) shadow ministry position before taking on then-Communications Minister Helen Coonan in October 2004. He didn't make much headwind against Coonan until gaining the support of Rudd for the NBN policy late last year.

Many in Australia's IT and telco community wondered whether he would hold on to the job after Rudd swept Howard out of power in November.

In contrast, Minchin, who is Conroy's senior by 10 years, is a former solicitor with economics qualifications who served as Finance and Administration Minister under Howard for a full seven years from November 2001.

New shadow communications
Minister Nick Minchin

(Credit: AUSPIC)

When Howard's government decided to fully privatise Telstra, it was Minchin who carried out the legwork. The senator will bring the full gravitas of most of a decade dealing with Telstra to the shadow ministry. He also served as Minister for Industry, Science and Resources for three years from 1998.

But more than that, it's Minchin's demeanour that will undoubtedly rattle Conroy, particularly in the inevitable Senate floor debates to come.

For a new communications minister, having to face one of Howard's strongest and most composed ministers day after day in a period of uncertainty in one's portfolio might just be a fate worse than being in opposition again.

If things get bad enough, Conroy's main problem could be keeping his job during Rudd's next cabinet re-shuffle.

Of course, all those years in government under Howard could have left Minchin battle-weary and incapable of "taking the fight" to Conroy as he promised yesterday. But at this stage it seems unlikely.

Will Minchin's age and experience triumph Conroy's youth and enthusiasm? Post your thoughts below or drop us a line.

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government : AU, NBN

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