Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today stated that he wanted to keep the Communications portfolio after the election if possible, and pilloried what he referred to as “a campaign” to champion an independent IT portfolio.
Various sections of Australia’s technology sector have speculated over the past few weeks that new Prime Minister Julia Gillard could split Conroy’s portfolio up — giving the IT part to Labor Senator Kate Lundy, who has demonstrated an enduring interest in the sector, and leaving Conroy with the National Broadband Network ball and regulation of the telco sector.
And technology publication Gizmodo launched an outright campaign after Gillard won the Labor leadership, to replace Conroy with Lundy. Yesterday Conroy stipulated that IT was not part of his portfolio, noting that area belonged to Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr.
“Keep the campaign going. Keep trying, have fun,” said Conroy this afternoon after being asked to clarify what exactly the “digital economy” part of his portfolio referred to. He was speaking at a press conference to launch the next stage of sites that the NBN will be rolled out to.
“There’s a document that is actually drawn up by the Prime Minister of the day. IT was not formally included … I don’t think it’s included anywhere specifically. And Kim Carr does IT in innovation. And I do Digital Economy, and yes there’s some overlap, and we jointly manage NICTA, for instance,” Conroy added.
“That’s the actually the facts, rather than a campaign to champion an IT portfolio.”
Conroy said if Gillard was to reshuffle the cabinet after the election, he would ultimately prefer to stay where he was. “I’ve sort of been with it from the beginning, and hopefully would like to see it through to the end,” he said.
“I’m very keen if the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, decides that she’d like me to keep doing this, I’d be very excited to keep doing this.”
Conroy pointed out that he drafted the original NBN proposal back in 2005 — when it was a 6Mbps fibre to the node proposal. It then grew to a 12Mbps policy, and then after the election, into the National Broadband Network policy that is currently seeing fibre laid around the nation.
“I believe there’s an enormous amount of work to be done, still needed, around the regulatory environment, and importantly, all of the challenges of delivering e-health, e-education, e-aged care, smart grids, all of those things, all [part] of the digital economy, all critically important,” he said. “This is the infrastructure that enables all of those things to become real,” he said of the NBN.
And as for the exact definition of the Digital Economy? “The digital economy, in my view, encompasses the entire economy,” Conroy said. “The majority of people don’t realise how pervasive the digital revolution is. It’s ultimately creeping up on them all.”
Video by Jenna Pitcher, Delimiter