news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has reportedly resigned his post in the wake of Kevin Rudd’s successful challenge for the leadership of the Federal Labor Party, after declaring earlier this week that he would not serve in a new Rudd Cabinet.
Earlier this week, Conroy, a long-time supporter of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and a fellow key figure in the Victorian arm of the Labor Party, told Sky News’ Australian Agenda program that he continued to support Gillard and added that he did not believe he would be in a position to be in a front bench — Cabinet Minister — position.
This evening, following Rudd’s victory in a leadership ballot called by Gillard earlier this afternoon, a number of media outlets have reported that Conroy has followed through on his promise and has signalled to the Labor caucus that he would resign his post as Communications Minister.
“[Treasurer Wayne Swan] has resigned as deputy prime minister and the government’s senate leader Stephen Conroy, who is Communications Minister, has also quit, meaning that three out of four of the leadership group has gone,” wrote Michelle Grattan, a journalist for The Conversation. “Swan and Conroy have quit,” confirmed Sky News chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert in a separate Twitter post.
“Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy, Joe Ludwig and Craig Emerson have all quit Cabinet,” added ABC News 24 on Twitter. Conroy has not yet issued a formal statement on his resignation. Any statement issued by Conroy will be added to this article.
The news marks the end of an era for Australia’s telecommunications and technology industries. Conroy has held the Communications Minister role since Rudd took power in November 2007, after several years in opposition holding the Shadow Communications Minister role against then-Coalition Communications Minister Helen Coonan.
Conroy’s time in the portfolio was dogged in the early years by controversy over Labor’s mandatory Internet filter scheme, which Labor had only briefly disclosed during the 2007 election, but which became a major issue for the Government after it was overwhelmingly opposed by the Australian public and eventually most other sides of politics.
However, Senator Conroy was able to largely neutralise the filter policy as an issue from July 2010, changing the policy into a more palatable system which would be voluntary for Australian ISPs and which would only see a list of ‘worst of the worst’ child pornography blocked.
Conroy’s legacy in the portfolio will largely be seen to be Labor’s successful National Broadband Network policy, the current iteration of which has been in place since April 2009. Although the rollout of the NBN has been much slower than expected, much of the underlying framework for the network to be rolled out, in terms of contracts with suppliers and equipment suppliers and the National Broadband Network Company itself, is now in place and is expected to continue under either side of politics.
The popular nature of the NBN policy, and the way that it deals with long-term issues in the telecommunications industry such as the vertically integrated nature of Telstra, has meant that the Coalition has been stimulated to come up with its own rival NBN policy, which shares much of its vision with Labor’s own vision, including the use of satellite and wireless technologies to support rural and regional areas and the extensive use of fibre to replace parts of Telstra’s existing copper network. The Coalition is expected to maintain much of the structure of Labor’s NBN policy and project if it wins the upcoming Federal Election.
One other legacy which Conroy will be remember for is the historic switch of Australia’s television infrastructure to digital television and away from legacy analogue technology, freeing up wireless spectrum to be used for other purposes such as the deploying of 4G mobile broadband infrastructure.
It is not clear who Conroy’s replacement would be likely to be, with most other likely candidates with experience in the technology portfolio — such as Senator Kate Lundy and Finance Minister Penny Wong (who is the second shareholder Minister overseeing the National Broadband Network Company) being strongly associated with Gillard.
One potential candidate would be Rudd supporter and Labor backbencher Ed Husic, who has previously served as the National President of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union of Australia and who has a strong history inside Parliament of agitating on issues in the telecommunications sector; for example spearleading the parliamentary inquiry into IT price hikes in Australia. However, Husic is regarded as relatively junior in the Parliament, having only taken office as August 2010. The Communications portfolio was historically not regarded as a senior Cabinet post, but the importance of the NBN issue has elevated it to a senior position, with Conroy holding an additional post directly advising the Prime Minister on broadband issues.
Opinion/analysis to follow separately.