news The Federal Government’s cadre of Labor Ministers most involved with the technology portfolio have emerged as strong backers of Julia Gillard in the Prime Minister’s tussle with rival Kevin Rudd which erupted last night following Rudd’s resignation as Foreign Minister.
Speaking on ABC Radio’s AM program this morning, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused Rudd of perpetuating “a complete and utter fraud” on the Australian Labor Party over the mandatory pre-commitment technology for poker machines which the Gillard Government had been attempting to implement with the support of independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
Conroy accused Rudd’s camp of meeting with industry lobby group Clubs Australia on the issue. “Kevin Rudd’s supporters were walking around caucus saying look, dump Wilkie, I’ll make this go away,” the Minister said. “The Australian public needs to know what’s been going on here.”
Asked whether his statements were borne out of an attempt to protect his own status, Conroy said his efforts were aimed at protecting the Gillard Government’s reform program — including the carbon tax, the disabilities insurance scheme, and the key project for Conroy’s own portfolio — the National Broadband Network policy.
Conroy represents the Victorian electorate where Gillard also hails from, and was frequently referred to by elements of the media as one of the main members of Labor’s right faction which assisted Gillard in taking power from Rudd prior to the 2010 Federal Election, although on the actual night the leadership spill took place, he admitted to watching soccer instead. Following the election, he received a minor promotion to a role assisting the Prime Minister in maximising the digital productivity opportunities offered by the NBN.
The Daily Telegraph has additionally reported this week that Conroy was one of the key ministers consulted by Gillard as to whether she should sack Rudd from his post as Foreign Minister for undermining her control of the Government, and separately that Conroy has started counting the number of votes that Gillard can count on during the ALP leadership ballot which Gillard announced this morning, to be held next Monday.
Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship, as well as Prime Minister and Cabinet Kate Lundy, who has been one of the driving forces behind the Government 2.0 movement in Canberra, this morning revealed on Twitter that she would support Gillard, as she did during the 2010 leadership contest. “I will be supporting @JuliaGillard in Monday’s Federal Labor Caucus leadership ballot. Australia needs and deserves this stability,” wrote Lundy.
In 2010, Lundy had believed that Gillard’s ascension could represent the potential for the Government to change its stance on its controversial Internet filtering policy, which the Senator has long opposed. However, under Gillard Labor has remained staunchly in favour of the policy.
Special Minister of State Gary Gray, who oversees peak IT strategy group the Australian Government Information Management Office, also criticised Rudd this week, noting that his ouster in 2010 wasn’t about popularity, but good governance. He said Rudd couldn’t come back and become Prime Minister again. “Being prime minister isn’t a job you have a shot at and then you come back again if you think you’ve learned a lesson,” he said. “The country and the governance of the country are too important and we’ve moved on.”
And lastly, newly appointed Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, who is responsible for setting policy in key areas such as data retention, telecommunications monitoring, online copyright infringement and more, has also signalled her support for Gillard
“I’m not a man and I’m not faceless and I don’t think that it would be good for the country to have Kevin be the Prime Minister again,” Roxon told ABC television this morning. And on Gillard: ” She’s the Prime Minister. She’s got the overwhelming support of the Party. If there is a leadership vote I am sure that she will win that convincingly and then that must be an end to this, no matter what people’s personal feelings are. Government is bigger than one person. We get the opportunity from the public only to govern occasionally and we’ve got to make sure that we make the most of that.”
In a press conference in Adelaide this morning, Gillard made reference to the structural separation of Telstra through the implementation of the National Broadband Network policy, which will eventually see its wholesale and retail arms separated, with customers migrated onto the NBN infrastructure.
Gillard said that this separation had been “a reform not attempted prior to my prime ministership”. However, Delimiter believes that this statement is factually incorrect, with the grounding for the talks between Telstra and NBN Co which led to the pair’s landmark agreement being signed in June 2011 having been laid substantially before Gillard came to office, under the Rudd Administration, in which Conroy was also Communications Minister. The current NBN policy was substantially detailed in April 2009.
I was disappointed to see Gillard claim credit for the NBN policy this morning; it was always a policy substantially cooked up between Rudd and Conroy, and I have seen very little evidence that Gillard has played any part in its implementation. There are also indications — such as her ongoing inaccurate claims that a Coalition Government would rip the NBN fibre out of the ground — that Gillard doesn’t fully understand the policy.
At the moment, most commentators consider it fairly unlikely that Rudd will defeat Gillard in any ALP leadership ballot to be held in the near future, with most agreeing that the former Foreign and Prime Minister doesn’t have the votes amongst Federal Labor parliamentarians.
However, should Rudd be successful in his effort, I would say that it is extremely likely that Conroy will lose his cabinet role as Communications Minister. It’s a position which he has been in for a long time, and he has now supported Gillard through several leadership struggles, and been highly visible in doing so. He might even resign from the Cabinet if Rudd took power again.
I would say it is less likely that Roxon would lose her role. Her comments today have been more diplomatic than those of similar strong Gillard supporters such as Conroy or Treasurer Wayne Swan. In addition, Roxon served in Opposition as Shadow Attorney-General and was only recently appointed to the role in Government. Her removal would cause too much chaos for the Government. As for the others, I wouldn’t suggest either Lundy or Gray would necessarily be in Rudd’s firing line, but anything’s possible in a broad cabinet reshuffle.
Image credit: NBN Co