Minchin will take Conroy down

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.


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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  • What will he sell next?

    So, he knows how to flog off taxpayer-assets... is Australia Post next?
  • stupid story

    Great so the word on the street is the public want somone in with a finacial background to take over digital revoloution in australia.
    What a load of rubish!!

    I rather have someone in that can understand advanced future technology as opposed to someone in the age group of 50+ that doesn't no what an ip address is!!!

    Go back to uni and study IT Minchin!!!!
  • stupid post

    The assumption that people 50+ generally don't know what an IP address is is absurd. Since IP addresses were invented in the late 1970's one could assume that anybody 40+ would have a fair idea what one is.

    In actual fact anybody currently alive will know what an IP address is provided they are interested. The key factor is "interest" not age.

    To be consistent you should also claim that a person 50+ wouldn't understand money.

    Go back to uni and study intelligence!
  • grow up

    "no (sic) what an ip address is"
    How about you go back to school and understand its "know". At least Minchin will have a grasp of english.

    As for the 50+ not "no" ing thats already been covered. The point is that labor stooges like you dont really care about the digital revolution now you have got the socialist revolutionaries in power.
  • Minchin changing spots?

    This is the fool that sold all our infrastructure & now has the job of telling Labor how to unravel the mess?
  • Minchin a joke

    Minchin has already done something to the Australian broadband world that is the most negative move someone could possibly do. He is responsible for the mess we're in now, and for him to talk about Labors efforts to fix his mistakes is a bit iffy.

    When the Liberals sold off Telstra wholly without separating the monopoly infrastructure, they consigned Australian broadband to a dark age.

    Let's just hope politics doesn't get in the way of the fix to this problem.
  • Not Really

    Minchin is the one who created the mess we are in now by selling off Telstra as one big monopoly, rather than enforcing structural separation at the start (by selling the infrastructure/wholesale arm off separately). Everyone else was telling him it was a bad idea, but the Libs went ahead with the plan. Minchin will have no credibility on the issue of the NBN as a result.

    Conroy is out of his depth, but his biggest headache was created by Minchin in the first place. He just has to keep reminding people of that fact.
  • Stupid story

    lol lol let see if he can live up to Coooonann..

    What this country needs is "True Competition" not the regulated stuff enjoyed under Howard/Coonan!!
  • Irrelevant

    "...is a former solicitor with economics qualifications" is not exactly the type of credentials that I would seek for someone to talk about IT and technology. The commenter seems to have missed the point.
  • Irrelevant

    And a union organiser is more qualified to talk about IT.

    I think you are the one to have missed the point. Politics and being a minister is not about understand the technology - they dont go and build the NBN - it is about how to ensure a smooth process occurrs in getting us to the point of having an NBN winner.

    Actually Minchin would be more qualified. The department is called "Broadband and Digital Economy". Minchin has economics qualifications, so having an understanding of the benefis of the NBN would sit better on Minchin's sholders than Conroy's.
  • Minchin "not" a joke.

    If you knew anything about telecommunications in Australia and globally, or anything about politics you might then comprehend the sell off of Telstra.

    Please name one major OECD country in which the government still owns its incumbant carrier.

    Please name those countries in which they split the incumbant into different organisations at the time of the selloff.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yes it is obviously in 2008 with all the issues Telstra does to retain market control that they should be be split. But in 1997, we barely had the internet - let alone DSL.

    So predicting that Telstra would behalve in such a way is very difficult.

    Selling Telstra was the right thing to do in 1997. Splitting Telstra is the right thing to do in 2008.
  • Communications minister

    I am a radio amateur who obviously deals with radio communications and I reject the idea of a shadow communications minister becoming the new communications minister
  • @ minchin

    buying your house years ago was the right thing to do anonymous. but now due to circumstances we need more housing. so we'll now change the rules after the fact, to suit ourselves and split *your *house, that would be ok with you wouldnt it, going by your comment.
  • @grow up

    sieg heil.
  • Oh yes he is

    I think the point was that Minchin had the chance during the sale to actually set up structural separation in the broadband industry and ignored it because it was too difficult.

    See http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/24/33/2736298.pdf -

    Countries in which the State holds a majority of shares :

    Belgium, Czech Rep, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Jspsn, Luxembourg, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey - so there are just a few.
  • First Look

    Man, my first trip to Zdnet .com.au and I read the most ill informed, short sighted, blow hard article in a long while, FAIL plus Mr Renai LeMay. Bye bye zdnet
  • House splitting

    "buying your house years ago was the right thing to do anonymous. but now due to circumstances we need more housing. so we'll now change the rules after the fact, to suit ourselves and split *your *house, that would be ok with you wouldnt it, going by your comment."

    Interesting argument, except there have been cases where people have purchased largish properties years ago, and now when more land is needed to develop due to population increases the councils are modifying the rules and saying "you can fit 4 houses on your property, so we're going to charge you 4 lots of rates". Effectively forcing anyone who can't afford the increase to either split their property or sell up and move on.

    The Government can't force the split of Telstra anyway, but they can stipulate that whoever gets the NBN has to run it structurally separate to their retail division. No doubt this is something that Minchin will be pitching for.
  • splitting Telstra, and IT expertise

    Hey Terry - you say the government can't force Telstra to split. I've read many people who think they can't because they no longer own Telstra... but that's a separate issue to whether a government can split a monopoly. Are you saying the government can't do that?

    And as for the new shadow minister not being IT qualified - I would guess that Malcolm Turnbull's history running Ozemail for 5 years makes him knowledgeable whoever he chose.... so picking someone who can work with him effectively would be most important.
  • Communications Minister +Unconstitutional

    I believe that it is unconstitutional for a Shadow minister to be installed . Of course the minister concerned could always change parties. Has anyone got a copy of the constitution handy ?
  • Unconstitutional?

    No this is not true because the formation of cabinet is governed by convention not the constitution. The constitution does not deal with political parties per se. If you are interested see Chapter II s 61 -70


    Of course politically never going to happen