Conroy overboard, can Albanese stop Rudd-erless NBN from running aground?

Conroy overboard, can Albanese stop Rudd-erless NBN from running aground?

Summary: Stephen Conroy's self-sacrifice gave Labor the chance to appoint a boring, if reliable, NBN steward in Anthony Albanese. But was putting Australia's largest-ever technology project to a self-professed technophobe a mistake? Or a masterstroke of electoral brilliance?

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Well, that’ll teach me to take time off. Fresh from a fortnight of not reading the news, I returned to find we have a new prime minister, a new communications minister and a totally new context in which the NBN will be taken to an uncertain election.

Most observers seem to have quickly accepted the fact that Stephen Conroy — the architect of the current NBN and by far the strongest character to occupy the position of communications minister since, well, ever — has fallen on his sword and left the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure project in the hands of the competent but boring Anthony Albanese.

Public domain: Walking the plank (Howard Pyle, 1887) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pyle_pirate_plank_edited.jpg)

But perhaps boring is exactly what the NBN needed. There is much to be said about Rudd’s decision to put the NBN’s future in the hands of Albanese, a politically experienced player whose dual role as deputy prime minister is certain to shorten the reporting lines between the NBN battlefield and the ears of KevIn07NotIn10AgainIn13.

Conroy’s virtues and faults have already been broadly debated elsewhere, so I will skip the eulogies apart from saying that he was the only person that could ever have gotten the NBN, and the industry, to where it is today.

We don’t know enough about how Albanese will manage the NBN yet to pass judgment, and I have not yet had the chance to talk with him face to face. However, conceptually, one does hesitate when the newly appointed communications minister begins his tenure by pointing out that he, like Tony Abbott, is no tech head.

Conceptually, one does hesitate when the newly appointed communications minister begins his tenure by pointing out that he, like Tony Abbott, is no tech head.

That said, it wasn’t a surprise to see Conroy go, and it was perhaps the best thing for the project to separate it from the politically distasteful and counterproductive dialogue in which Conroy was mired every day. Regardless of his skill in getting the job done, there is no avoiding the fact that the NBN had become the victim of its own bulk in recent months, with seemingly one disaster after another obscuring suggestions that it was actually starting to pick up the speed it needed.

The network is now under the control of a new captain whose job will be less to make any substantial changes to its execution as it will be to apply his experience as an infrastructure champion and try to clean up the NBN’s image with voters.

Thankfully, Albanese has been upfront about his lack of technical knowledge, and has been given three more-experienced ministers to assist him. Kate Lundy is well-respected and has unmatched experience as a champion of the digital economy, while Ed Husic was increasingly involved with digital economy issues and gained a high profile with his involvement in the IT vendor price-gouging hearings.

The network is now under the control of a new captain whose job will be less to make any substantial changes to its execution as it will be to apply his experience as an infrastructure champion and try to clean up the NBN’s image with voters.

That she now occupies Albanese’s old position may itself be seen as an open line of communications that, if played right, could be turned into political gold: “give us another three years,” she will effectively be saying, “and we won’t forget you.”

Things have definitely turned on a dime, and the nature of the political dialogue since the coup seems to have changed dramatically as well. Malcolm Turnbull, no longer able to fling time-worn potshots at his nemesis Conroy, now seems to be trying to reposition the debate around regional communications — which could be a disaster for him if Labor can successfully make the point that the regions are the place where Turnbull’s FttN plan is actually weakest.

Albanese’s role, then, is less to be the pig-headed advocate that Conroy was, and more to be something of a ring-master — trying to keep his deputies working together to sell a message of continuity to the voting populace. Whether or not he can make that happen without the technical nous that Conroy had, remains to be seen; he will also face a demanding telco community that’s already trying to set his agenda for him.

And yet, just as Tony Abbott seems to have become a stunned mullet in the wake of Rudd’s resurgence, perhaps Conroy’s departure — and the devenomisation of the NBN debate — will allow Albanese to muffle Turnbull and polish the project into a political asset come election time. Either way, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

What do you think? Will Albanese become an NBN power hitter? Can he maintain a consistent message with so many deputies? Or will Conroy’s departure turn the NBN into the boring infrastructure project it should have been all along?

Topics: NBN, Fiber, Government AU, Telcos, Australia, Next Generation Networks

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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Talkback

35 comments
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  • Like I said previously all Albanese needs to do is educate himself just like Conroy did. Sure he wont be able to cram all that Conroy class information in between now and the election but he can at the very least give the appearance and fool enough people like Turnball has been doing for so long;-)

    After the election is a different story. Assuming a Labor win I dont think Albanese will become "power hitter" like Conroy but he doesn't really need to be. Conroy has basically done all the hard work already. In this scenario NBNco will become a "boring infrastructure project" as it should and the coaltion clowns will have no choice but to accept it. If they want to bring up obsolete copper and FttN in 2016 then they are even more clowny than I originally thought;-)
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • I know there's an election coming up soon...

    ...but perhaps when making ministerial appointments, the emphasis should be on effective government conducted in the public interest, rather than winning the next election.
    John L. Ries
    • ?

      You have a better candidate for the position in mind?
      Ramrunner-5dd3e
  • agree it was time

    Sen Conroy departed the scene. I have mentioned this comment in a number of posts in recent months. I also believe that it's time to replace senior executives in NBN Co including the fellow at the top.
    Knowledge Expert
    • Replace

      Why and who with? See, we can all sit on this side of the fence and throw stones into our neighour's garden, but walk a mile in their shoes. Do you really think NBNCo management have their feet up on a desk playing paper toss, with their stock brokers on the line through a bluetooth headset?

      I have yet to see proof they are not working hard and doing their job. Who can do better? Do we really want another Sol Trujillo imported "expert" with a golden handshake. Yep, they were golden years for Telstra.

      Not having a go here, but this project is MASSIVE. Just imagine all the things that need doing on a daily basis. By all means give me a name of someone who can do better. Not to mention Telstra's failure in all this that cannot be overlooked.
      Ramrunner-5dd3e
      • Methinks

        The cacaphony from political and vested interests to replace the NBN team at the top is more about ensuring it all falls apert at the seams so they throw their hands in the air, blame Labor, Conroy and Quigley and give it all to Telstra to cripple the economy and screw us all over wirh their second rate approach (What do they offer in South Bris - a HFC equivalent is all - anything business capable sell your grandmother to pay for it )
        Abel Adamski
        • "The cacaphony from political and vested interests to replace the NBN team at the top is more about ensuring it all falls apert at the seams so they throw their hands in the air, blame Labor, Conroy and Quigley"

          Nailed it.
          Hubert Cumberdale
        • So it isn't going badly?

          This is ridiculous.

          Nut job conspiracy theorists.
          Richard Flude
          • Hmmm...

            I shall wear the conspiracy, you may assume the other mantle
            btone-c5d11
      • "Do you really think NBNCo management have their feet up on a desk playing paper toss, with their stock brokers on the line through a bluetooth headset?"

        I think the outrage over the coffee machines should give you an insight as to how many people actually think like this;-)
        Hubert Cumberdale
        • most of you spring to the

          defence of those leaders clearly have little insight into the dysfunctional management culture amongst the senior executives.
          A clean out a must!
          Knowledge Expert
          • Type coherent sentences when you address me in the future please.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Your the expert then

            Tell us then please. Name names. Exactly who are these people. What have they done wrong. Give us the benefit of your obviously deep inside knowledge of the goings on within NBNCo management.
            Pilfer-52cec
          • please dont be silly

            this forum is not the place to be naming people.
            It is common knowledge in the industry NBN Co has leadership problems. The revolving door should tell anyone that the atmosphere is not good.
            Knowledge Expert
  • One thing is sure

    and that's that the NBN rollout has been bungled badly. They need new management, and a boring, methodical, by the numbers approach is probably what's best at this point.
    theoilman
    • in the words of the great commentator HC

      "nailed it"!
      Knowledge Expert
      • well well well

        New strategy .

        Flag posts that have a comment critical of NBN Co.
        Knowledge Expert
        • Yes

          And whoever they replace them with should be an expert at spotting bad contracting companies. They should have known all these contractors that build so much infrastructure around Australia already would bungle this one so badly.
          Pilfer-52cec
    • Everyone

      Points the finger at NBN Management and overlooks the Other Parties, Telstra who is responsible for Pit and Duct remediation and Asbestos clean up - they admitted having trouble coping as the install was ramping up, look how long to do Bris South. This of course affects work flow and thus the contractors and sub contractors very negatively, look at the economic impact on the subbies of the halt instigated by Telstra negatively affecting the rollout.
      The Prime Contractors have their own management and performance issues as was inadvertently brought out in The Australian re the subbies pulling out work done, they complained about slack and inefficient people they had to deal with.

      This actually is an Australian issue, ensuring efficient quality managers, executives and staff. How to address, maybe selection criteria. How else can we be truly competitive on the World stage

      Yes the whips are being cracked at NBNCo and some can't handle it
      Abel Adamski
    • Underestimates the challenges

      The project if failing not only because of bad management, but the political brief was rudiculous; underestimated the challenges, budgeted too little, ROI deliberately to keep off budget but laughible, timetable unrealistic.

      These were pointed out from day one; talkbackers abused then and every news item since highlightening the obvious failures.

      Now there contractors are all going broke, "premises passed" includes this that can't connect, they still haven't accepted the obvious MDU solution, wireless is a disaster.

      The only part going smoothly is satellite; this outsourced to private suppliers (continuation of a Howard program). What will happen when they launch there own!

      Audit the program, be transparent about the failures and challenges and produce a proper corp plan and CBA.

      Clearly few fanboy talkbackers have any experience (actually abuse those that do); but eventually even they are finally going to have to demand change. As MT said the other night; 6 years ago Labor came to power and 2m Aussies had no high speed Internet, exactly the same number today. It a joke given the billions spent; 3k NBNCo employees, 50 in their media dept alone!
      Richard Flude