commentary Shadow Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy is finally on to a winner. Common sentiment is that Conroy has been mostly ineffective in the merged portfolio he inherited in October 2004 in good shape from its previous owners, the energetic Senator Kate Lundy and high-profile frontbencher Lindsay Tanner.
commentary Shadow Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy is finally
on to a winner.
Common sentiment is that Conroy has been mostly ineffective in
the merged portfolio he inherited in October 2004 in good shape
from its previous owners, the energetic Senator Kate Lundy and
high-profile frontbencher Lindsay Tanner.
The new Labor policy had a dramatic effect upon the nation,
instantly making a huge splash in the popular media and igniting
widespread debate about the Howard government's broadband
Five days later, that initial explosion of public interest has
settled down somewhat, however the new broadband plan lingers on
in the nation's consciousness. References to it are still being
made throughout the media, and the topic is all that the
telecommunications industry can talk about.
The reaction of Prime Minister John Howard and his team to the
new policy went far to revealing just how nervous it made
Falling back on his government's laurels, Howard labelled
Labor's idea of partially funding the network from the Future
Fund superannuation war chest as "reckless" and "economically
irresponsible", while his Treasurer and heir apparent Peter
Costello described the plan as "shameful economic vandalism".
Conroy's opposite, Communications Minister Senator Helen
Coonan, sent out no less than three vitriolic statements
variously labelling the plan as:
"One of the greatest policy con jobs since the infamous 'Noodle Nation'" (a government label for Labor's 2001 Knowledge Nation education policy)
"Another re-heated Beazley proposal"
"Akin to giving the bank robber the keys to the vault"
A "smash and grab from the Future Fund"
Nobody else to blame
However, in your writer's opinion, it was Coonan herself who left
the door open for Labor to launch its extremely popular new
The Communications Minister appears to have seriously
underestimated public interest in the ongoing prospect of a new
national fibre broadband network, first proposed in the current
debate by Telstra back in November of 2005.
Coonan has not provided enough government leadership at a time
when the nation has been following every twist and turn of the
competition regulator's wrangling with Telstra, and to a lesser
extent, its major rivals, about the terms under which a fibre
network would be built.
Conroy pointed this out one year ago, in an interview with
ZDNet Australia. "I believe there is a role for the
government in giving leadership in this. Because at the moment,
everyone's sitting around waiting for someone else to do
something," he said.
Howard's team have also seriously misread the new Labor
policy. While the carrot is the AU$4.7 billion of
re-directed funds, what Conroy is really proposing is to move
aside the regulatory obstacles that seem to have been holding up
construction of a fibre network for some time.
Does changing the regulatory playing field have the potential
to cause further, structural problems down the track? Yes,
indeed. But if it will result in a short-term win on a fibre
broadband network, the Australian public will take that risk, in
In choosing to focus the attack on Labor's Future Fund funding
proposal, Howard's team has also left itself open to criticism on
its home ground of economic management. Finance Minister Nick
Minchin himself admitted this week the Future Fund may not need
further cash injections to meet its aim of providing for future
government superannuation needs by 2020.
Labor's treasury spokesperson Wayne Swan, among other more
independent parties, noted it was ridiculous for the government
to protest Labor's proposed Future Fund raid when the account was
looking so well topped up.
It has also been pointed out that Labor's plan to invest in a
high-speed broadband network was just another form of investment
... and surely a better one from a nation-building perspective
that letting the Future Fund money sit in the stockmarket.
What do you think about Labor's new broadband
policy? An election-winner or a recycled ram-raid on the public
purse? Drop me a line directly at email@example.com