Conroy resigns as Rudd returns

Stephen Conroy has resigned as communications minister as former Australian Prime Minster Kevin Rudd is re-elected the leader of the federal Labor party.

Stephen Conroy has gone ahead with his threat to resign should former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd return to the top job.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Following a caucus ballot for the leadership of the Labor Party tonight, Kevin Rudd has defeated sitting Prime Minister Julia Gillard 57 votes to 45. Conroy had threatened to resign as communications minister and leader of the Senate should Rudd be returned, and, according to Conroy's media office Twitter account, he has tonight said that he will step down from both roles.

No replacement for Conroy has yet been announced, but Finance Minister Penny Wong will reportedly replace Conroy as the leader of the government in the Senate.

Conroy was the shadow minister for communications for Labor from 2004, and has been the minister for communications for the entire life of the Labor government under both Rudd from 2007 to mid-2010 and Gillard from 2010 until today. Conroy's biggest legacy will remain his role in delivering structural separation of Telstra and a massive shakeup of the telecommunications industry with the advent of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Conroy oversaw the development and subsequent rollout of the ambitious AU$37.4 billion fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) National Broadband Network, which he announced with Rudd in April 2009.

The NBN was seen as a vote winner for Labor in 2010, and the Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor both said that the NBN was a key factor in their decision to back Labor in a minority government, with the Coalition at the time vowing to end the project and instead opt for ADSL upgrades and wireless networks.

Both Oakeshott and Windsor announced today that they would not recontest the election in September.

After the 2010 election, however, Conroy faced a tougher opponent, with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott appointing Malcolm Turnbull as the new shadow communications minister. Turnbull has, for the last three years, focused on the cost of the network and the delays it has faced as a result of a lengthy negotiation with Telstra and difficulty with construction partners.

In April, the Coalition announced an alternative policy that would see the network scaled back to a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network in most areas, which the party said would offer all Australians up to 25 megabits per second download speeds by the end of 2016.

While the NBN did win Conroy popularity, he also attracted criticism for the proposed mandatory internet filtering scheme that the government ultimately ditched at the end of last year. However, earlier this year, it was revealed that government agencies had been using a section of the Telecommunications Act to request ISPs to block websites that they believed to be in violation of Australian law.

Conroy's comments in late 2012 to a US telecommunications conference about his power over the telecommunications industry also drew criticism from the industry.

"We are in the fortunate position that the regulation of telecommunications powers in Australia is exclusively federal," he said at the time.

"That means I am in charge of spectrum auctions, and if I say to everyone in this room, 'if you want to bid in our spectrum auction, you'd better wear red underpants on your head', I've got some news for you. You'll be wearing them on your head."

At the digital dividend auctions, the government fell short of its desired revenue target, with only Optus, Telstra, and TPG acquiring spectrum, and 30MHz of the lucrative 700MHz spectrum band remaining unsold.

More to come.