news The Federal Labor Party has left two of its most qualified and experienced candidates for the post of Shadow Communications Minister off the front bench representing its Shadow Cabinet team, as speculation firms that former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy may return to the portfolio in Opposition.
The way that Labor elects its front bench, and hence its ministers, differs from the way the Coalition undertakes the process. Yesterday, after consultation with the various factions inside the Labor Party and with reference to internal ballots, new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten published a list of 28 names of MPs and Senators who would take front bench positions in his Shadow Ministry to oppose Tony Abbott’s Coalition administration. However, specific portfolios are not expected to be allocated to those individuals until later this week.
The most qualified and experienced politicians in the Federal Parliament wing of the Australian Labor Party to lead the Communications portfolio opposing Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are Conroy, who held the post of Communications Minister for the majority of the past two terms of Government, and Senator Kate Lundy, who has held various roles both in Government and Opposition relating to the technology portfolio in general, and who has long been seen as a rival for Conroy’s role or a potential successor.
Lundy has held a long-term interest in the technology portfolio, and has agitated for positive change with respect to the Government’s approach to it, even when on the backbench during the Howard Government’s long stay in power. Lik Conroy, Lundy entered Parliament as a Senator in 1996.
Three other candidates have lesser experience in the Communications portfolio but have demonstrated either passion or have recently taken a role in the area. Anthony Albanese for a very short time added the Communications portfolio to his responsibilities prior to the last Federal Election, after Conroy resigned, and Sharon Bird added Regional Communications to her remit at the same time.
Probably the most experienced Labor politician after Conroy and Lundy in the portfolio is Ed Husic, who was only elected to Parliament in 2010 but has a deep history leading Australia’s main telecommunications union, the CEPU, and has also demonstrated a deep interest in the portfolio over the past several years through spearheading the Parliament’s IT price hike inquiry. Husic also held the role of Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband for a short time prior to the Federal Election and has remained active in the portfolio since the election.
With Conroy having resigned from the post of Communications Minister before the Federal Election, and Albanese not having an organic interest in the portfolio, it had previously been considered likely by many in the technology sector that the most likely candidates to become Shadow Communications Minister were Husic and Lundy. Husic has been associated with Labor’s NSW Right faction, while Lundy has long been a member of the Left.
However, in the list of front bench representatives announced by Shorten yesterday, only Albanese, Bird and Conroy were listed.
In an interview on the ABC’s Lateline show last night, Conroy was asked whether he would be a “shoo-in” to retake the Communications portfolio for Labor, given that the Senator remains a member of the United Nations’ Broadband Commission, and that last week he gave a major speech admitting Labor had severely underestimated the amount of work required to deliver the NBN.
“Oh, look, that’s a matter to be decided by Bill Shorten,” said Conroy. “Our rules have always been that the leader appoints the portfolio and makes those choices. I’ll obviously be talking with him, but I’m happy to take any portfolio that Bill would like me to to assist the Labor Party defeat the Abbott Government.”
Pressed on the matter, Conroy added: “Look, there’s no question I have an ongoing interest and I’m involved in a number of international bodies. But that decision is ultimately taken by Bill Shorten and I’m certainly not going to pre-empt Bill’s discussions, which he hasn’t had a chance to even have with, I suspect, many of the frontbench yet.”
There has already been criticism of Labor’s process of appointing new leaders. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke penned an article yesterday for The Guardian noting she was “bitter and disappointed” about being left out of the Shadow Ministry, given her hard work in the past.
Burke wrote: “Having left a room where I must admit the bulk of people – both men and women – didn’t vote for me to get the chief opposition whip job not on the basis of merit or perceived capability but on the numbers and the deals done beforehand, one has to question the newly found “democracy” in the Labor party, and the notion that we all have a say.”
I’ll have more to say on this at a later date when Labor firms up the portfolio, but I have to say it appears like that we’ll be getting Conroy back in the Communications portfolio — either Conroy or possibly Albanese. If that happens, it would be a tragic loss of an opportunity to promote either Lundy or Husic, both of whom are experienced, passionate and deserve a run leading the portfolio. Conroy’s had his stint — it’s time to let someone else lead the NBN argument for Labor for a while.
Image credit: Office of Kate Lundy