Turnbull's 'shadow shadow' comms minister

Turnbull's 'shadow shadow' comms minister

Summary: In the lively debate around the National Broadband Network in senate estimates this week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy belittled his opposition counterpart Malcolm Turnbull's tech credentials for taking advice from Liberal MP Paul Fletcher. But what's so wrong with that?


In the lively debate around the National Broadband Network in senate estimates this week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy belittled his opposition counterpart Malcolm Turnbull's tech credentials for taking advice from Liberal MP Paul Fletcher. But what's so wrong with that?


(Shadows image by Atilla Kefeli, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In Tuesday night's epic four-hour marathon estimates session, where Conroy and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley were grilled by coalition and Greens senators on the roll-out of the National Broadband network (NBN), the minister mocked the Liberal Senators by announcing that Turnbull had brought fellow Liberal MP and former Optus director of corporate affairs Paul Fletcher along to a recent meeting with Quigley at the NBN Co offices.

"The fact is ... your shadow communications spokesperson needed to take Paul Fletcher along with him to a briefing with Mr Quigley so he could explain to Mr Turnbull what Mr Quigley was talking about later," Conroy said. "It is the first time I have ever seen a shadow minister need a shadow shadow minister. So a shadow shadow minister came to the briefing with Mr Quigley."

"But just to be very clear to you: the fact that your shadow communications minister does not understand how you receive a fixed-line phone on a piece of fibre is a little disappointing," he added. "I thought Mr Turnbull was a tech head."

It's easy for Conroy to say that, of course, he's been the minister responsible for broadband for over three years. He has had advisors and experts within the department and NBN Co at his disposal to explain these technical specifics to him for quite some time. Unfortunately for Turnbull, when a political party is in opposition, its resources are much more limited than those of the government. If anything, it would be negligent for Turnbull not to draw on Fletcher's vast experience both working for Optus and his history working for previous communications minister Richard Alston.

Turnbull having a "shadow shadow" communications minister in Fletcher to advise him on the technology behind the NBN will only lead to a much more well-informed debate between Turnbull and Conroy in the media and it has the potential to shift the focus to the technical details from the seemingly never-ending discussion about whether or not there is a cost-benefit analysis for the $43 billion network.

That can only be a good thing.

In any case, it's clear that the government is using Fletcher to attack Turnbull, stating that it believes Fletcher advocated the government's telecommunications industry policy in his book Wired Brown Land?: as recently as yesterday Gillard quoted a passage from the book in Question Time.

"On the merits of this legislation, the House does not have to take reassurances from me. It can actually turn to the words of the member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher, who wrote a book called Wired Brown Land? Telstra's Battle for Broadband. He, of course, is now acting as the shadow shadow communications minister, as I understand it."

Gillard went on to quote Fletcher stating that the wholesale owner of the network must not compete in the retail space, which is what the reform legislation aims to accomplish.

If the government is singing the praises of Fletcher's advice, isn't that the perfect reason why Turnbull should be listening to him?

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • I love the way these politicians try to speak in technical terms. most would not know an electron if it kicked them in the shins
    Blank Look
  • Conroy's comments on Turnbull are ridiculous, and kicking him in the shins would have no less effect than if you kicked him in the head. (imo)
  • For instance: nude ADSL
    Mr Conroy has made many well documented faux-pas in his time even as late as this week.
  • Listen to Conroy, he knows what is right for us. He will protect us from your bank details being sucked up into the Portal as your read this.
    J. Goebels
  • Senator Conroy is to be admired for his effort to bring fast fibre to most Australians but he does, at times, go a little overboard.

    His attack on Malcolm Turnbull while silly was nothing compared to his frenzy on the free press of Australia and Rupert Murdoch. The Australian Newspaper (as it is duty bound to do) was pointing out facts concerning the NBN to the Australian people when Mr Conroy tried to apply the censorship gag.

    Fortunately for those Australians wishing to have access to all sides of the NBN debate The Australian Newspaper and Mr Murdoch will not be dominated by transient standover merchants in Canberra. Senator Conroy might be a tall poppy in his own Office but he should remember that Mr Murdoch has just been voted the worlds most influential person. President Barack Obama was number 2.

    It may be good advice for the good Senator to remember, for his own political survival, to pick on someone his own size because I don't think the threat and blackmail that he used against Telstra to remove it as a competitor to the NBN will work against The Australian Newspaper or Mr Murdoch.
  • "why Turnbull should be listening to him?" It would be nice if Turnbull listened to Fletcher. It would be nicer still if Fletcher agreed with what he said in his own book rather than what Abbott tells him to say.

    Sadly, that's politics.
  • Richard,
    Have you read the book?
    What he says and what the liberals offer are two VERY different things!

    No one disagrees that BB is important but as has been said at what cost is it no longer a smart thing to look at. 20Billion, 40 billion 100 billion? at what cost should we say enough is enough! Or should we build it anyway? Should we hoc the country for BB NO ONE will use? Look at the figures come out of Tasmania. Even those that are connected aren't connected at any thing passed good ADSL speeds. Yes many people can't get these speeds but are we hoc the country for this? this is the question SO many people are asking and the on response we get is fibre is the best technology.
  • There are two key points here Josh, and involvement of Fletcher must be considered in this context:

    1. Turnbull has been touted as industry savvy tech-head with years of technology experience, thus more qualified than Conroy and even Quigley to analyse, understand and speak authoritively on the core issues surrounding the NBN. The reality is though that Turnbull was a successful merchant banker who invested in a start-up dial-up ISP back i9n the 1990s... More not. The fact is that he is woefully out of his depth when in a telco technology and implementation discussion with Quigley, which would usually cause a wiser man to cease criticising him so loudly and so openly, and to accept that he does understand the fundamentals, which Turnbull clearly does not.

    2: Paul Fletcher does have telco experience, however just check his statements to date. They are anythiong but balanced and if they got any further to the Right he would be popping out a window.
    If Fletcher was being used to objectively analyse the NBN aspects that would be positive, however he only being used to subjectively support the attacks and obstructionism against the project. Just another attack hack. More not.

    Paul Fletcher's statements to date carry many misnomers themselves, or a simply political in nature and (missing) content:


    Here is a good example of no single question being answered, no committments, no content and much political waffle. Not a single statement from the "architect" and all standard party hack responses.

    The govt was singing the praises of the industry advocate Fletcher Josh, when he was addressing the industry restructuring, not the polical agenda Fletcher. Those are two entirely different beasts. One thinking of the nationals telecoms industry, one thinking of how to get Labor out of govt at any cost.

    Only one of those two is objective.
  • Ocker,

    What point are you trying to make? Yes the Liberal party WILL point at floors in the Government's policy THAT's the POINT! and rather the ANSWER the question the Government simply tries to point out inexperience. Stephen Conroy has NO IDEA!

    Malcolm brought Fletch in as another set of ears! It's what any GOOD investor would do. It means you can sit down and a have a debrief with someone. It will give them both a better understand of the NBN and what floors they need to focus on. There is NO question there needs to be a CBA! With a CBA charted to do the right analysis what ever the answer the government and Liberal party will have to take the finds on board. Although CBA is NOT black and white as people think at least you will get focus and the public will know the facts! Data is king now days. There are no excuses give us the information we need to make an informed decision about the NBN.
  • So our elected representatives have to bow down to the world's most infuential person...

    AND a self-confessed Liberal supporter at that.
    No wonder they almost won the last election....
  • And will they point at ceilings too, or just floors?