Former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy resigns from Senate

The senator responsible for introducing Australia's fibre-to-the-premises NBN, and pushing a controversial internet-filtering policy, has resigned from Parliament.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Former Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has resigned from Parliament, effective September 30, referring in his farewell speech to the National Broadband Network (NBN) as his "greatest contribution".

"There is nothing more fulfilling and no greater privilege than to be in government and conceive, create, and implement a strategy to deliver the economic and social opportunities that technology brings and reach all Australians wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds," Conroy said in his surprise announcement.

"The National Broadband Network will remain my greatest contribution."

Conroy served as communications minister until June 2013, resigning from the portfolio when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was ousted in favour of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who then became prime minister again.

Under Conroy, the Labor government introduced a full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN model, which was subsequently changed to a multi-technology mix (MTM) incorporating FttP, fibre to the node, fibre to the basement, fibre to the distribution point, hybrid fibre-coaxial, satellite, and fixed-wireless when the Coalition came into power at the end of 2013 in order to roll out the NBN faster and more cost efficiently.

"When history looks back at Stephen Conroy, they will regard his vision of a fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network as being one of the great policy initiatives that we have seen this century," said Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese.

Conroy has since staunchly defended his all-fibre views in the Senate, particularly when questioning NBN CEO Bill Morrow on the rollout during Senate Estimates, and when the various leaks of the state of the rollout were revealed.

"We've seen a document from the National Broadband Network company, which demonstrates, once again, the folly and the lies of those who've been peddling the NBN MTM," Conroy said in December last year.

"What we've seen today is a document that shows that this government are so inept, so incompetent, and so ideologically driven that they are prepared to buy a network from Optus which the minister said today in Question Time were going to use the Optus network, but what NBN Co have found after being made to buy it by Prime Minister Turnbull is, I quote: 'It's not fit for use'."

Those NBN leaks resulted in Conroy's office and a home of one of his staffers being raided by the Australian Federal Police earlier this year, which Conroy said was "illegal", as NBN is not a Commonwealth officer and therefore cannot make referrals.

"I've written to the Federal Police on Friday, asking them to end their ludicrous investigation into links from the NBN on the basis of legal advice that says NBN Co have incorrectly called the police in," Conroy said in July.

"They are not Commonwealth officers, and I'm seeking and demanding an end to the investigation and an apology from [NBN chairman] Ziggy Switkowski, an apology from [Communications Minister] Mitch Fifield who's overseen this, and Ziggy Switkowski resign over it."

Conroy also mentioned in his farewell speech a controversial policy he attempted to push through back in 2009 as communications minister.

"At one stage when I was a minister, there was a particularly vigorous online debate about a policy I was advancing," Conroy said, likely in reference to the internet filtering policy.

"The full force of the internet trolls was raining down and my staff were monitoring the commentary which was very unflattering."

In 2009, Conroy said he would introduce mandatory internet filtering legislation in mid-2010 through amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act that would have required all ISPs to block refused classification-rated material hosted on overseas servers, with a compliance date of 2011.

Following the backlash, however, by the end of 2012 Conroy and the government dumped the policy, instead simply compelling ISPs to block Interpol's "worst of the worst" child abuse websites under existing legislation.

During his tenure as communications minister, Conroy also boasted at a Columbia Institute for Tele-Information Conference in New York in 2012 that the Australian government has such "unfettered legal power" over its telco industry that he could even compel executives to wear red underpants on their heads.

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

"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."

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