news Malcolm Turnbull has reportedly resigned his post as Communications Minister and from Federal Cabinet to challenge Tony Abbott for the Prime Ministership, in a move that has the potential to result in a dramatic shake-up of the way the National Broadband Network project is run.
In a press conference at Parliament House this afternoon, Turnbull confirmed that he had met with Abbott to request a leadership ballot for the leadership of the Liberal Party, while multiple media outlets are also reporting that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also met with the Prime Minister. Turnbull confirmed he had resigned as Communications Minister and from Cabinet.
The Minister said it was not a decision that “anyone could take lightly” and that the course of action he was pursuing had been urged on him by many people over a long period of time.
Turnbull’s principle rationale for challenging Abbott was two-fold, with the Member for Wentworth stating that ultimately Abbott had not been successful in providing the economic leadership that Australia needed, and that a different style of leadership was needed that would explore the challenges and opportunities that Australia would need to develop an “agil
Turnbull also pointed out that Abbott remained extremely unpopular. “We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row,” he said. “It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership”. The Minister said he would seek to restore a traditional, consultative Cabinet Government in the style of the long-running administration of John Howard.
Regardless of the outcome, the news has the potential to cause a substantial shake-up in Australia’s technology sector.
Turnbull has been viewed as one of the few senior Coalition figures to support the National Broadband Network proceeding in any form. Senior Liberal figures such as Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have been long-time critics of the project, and figures such as South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi have expressed the view that the Government should not be in the business of providing telecommunications services. Abbott famously ordered Turnbull to “demolish” the NBN.
Under Turnbull’s stewardship, the NBN company and much of the overall structure of Labor’s NBN project have been maintained, although Turnbull has radically reshaped the project, integrating Telstra’s copper network and the HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus. The Minister has faced sustained criticism from telecommunications experts for such moves.
Some commentators have long suspected that Turnbull has personally been in favour of retaining Labor’s previous all-fibre version of the NBN, but was forced by his role as part of the Abbott administration to significantly water it down.
Turnbull does appear to have acted, as part of the Abbott administration, against his personal views on a number of other technology issues. For example, in Opposition the Member for Wentworth was a critic of Data Retention legislation and also expressed concerns about cracking down on Internet piracy. In Government, Turnbull has supported Abbott ally and Attorney-General George Brandis in enacting such policies.
As Prime Minister, the Member for Wentworth may have the ability to reshape technology policy further along lines that he may personally desire.
Alternatively, should Abbott retain the Prime Ministership, the Government’s front bench would lose one of its highest-profile MPs focused on technology issues. It is not clear who could replace Turnbull, although a number of Liberal MPs and Senators have an understanding of technology sector issues.
One contender, especially in a Turnbull Administration, would be likely to be Turnbull’s existing Parliamentary Secretary, Paul Fletcher, although Fletcher is not viewed as a senior figure within Liberal ranks. Other Coalition MPs with technology experience include Senator Simon Birmingham, who sat for some time on success Senate Environment and Communications Committees. Liberal Senator Anne Ruston is currently the chair of the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee.
Queensland Liberal MP Jane Prentice is currently chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, and also last week helped form a new cross-party Parliamentary Friends of the Internet group.
Opinion/analysis to be published separately.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting