Conroy’s Greatest Contribution was to Resign
19 September, 2016
Stephen Conroy announced the NBN as his greatest contribution while in politics, a project which he had very little positive impact on and which the Coalition Government has been left to figure out how to fund and implement. This is pretty typical of many past Labor Politicians.
Conroy said his greatest contribution was the NBN. Yet he clearly had no idea how much it would cost when he first pitched the idea of the Government implementing an NBN. Former Labor leader Kevin Rudd promised a national network before the 2007 election, saying it would be a public-private partnership and the Commonwealth would kick in just $4.7 billion.
By 2013, the Coalition argued that Labor’s original all-fibre to the premises (FTTP) network could cost as much as $94 billion. In the 2016 NBN Corporate plan, the figure was revised down to $74 – 84 billion, while NBN Co’s multi technology mix (MTM), incorporating fibre to the node (FTTN) and upgraded hybrid fibre coax (HFC) was less costly, with a price tag of $46 – 56 billion.
Conroy clearly had no idea of the cost and what it would take to implement. It was left to the Coalition to work out how to implement it and pay for it. Yet Conroy names it as his greatest contribution. That is pretty sad for a guy who was in the Senate for twenty years, since 1996, and before that worked as a union ‘Superannuation Officer’ and Labor political staffer.
Conroy is no different from Julia Gillard, who lists her greatest contributions as the NDIS Scheme and the Gonski education reforms. Neither of which she actually implemented. Again she had no idea how either would be done or paid for, and it is left to a Coalition Government to try to sort out. Sometimes she also nominates that she demonstrated to women that they can strive to lead a country, overlooking the dozens of more significant and successful women who led their countries before she came along.
Kevin Rudd claimed his proudest achievements were “steering Australia through the global financial crisis and delivering an official apology to Aboriginal Australians.” We weathered the GFC better than most countries because the previous Coalition Government had left Australia’s finances in good shape, with no debt, and we benefited from the mining boom and a strong increase demand from China caused by Chinese monetary simulation in response to the GFC. It is generally agreed now that the bulk of Labor’s spending on the so called ‘stimulus package’ was wasteful, unnecessary, and too late, and only added to the massive debt they left the next Government.
At the time of the GFC stimulus spending, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan said they were having a temporary deficit with an expected return to surplus the following year. Instead they never achieved a surplus and managed to achieve record deficits.
Using the term ‘steering’ implies you know roughly where you want to be and how to get there. The Rudd Government obviously didn’t have a clue what they were doing during the GFC — because I am sure they wouldn’t have deliberately set out to have years of record deficit and debt. I am sure they didn’t mean to have the massive wastage of spending on unnecessary school halls and the like. And I am sure they didn’t deliberately set out to cause the deaths of young men due to their ill-conceived home insulation scheme.
As for the ‘official apology’ to Aboriginal Australians, what has that achieved? It didn’t improve health and literacy and employment, or reduce domestic abuse or substance abuse in Aboriginal communities. Instead it has allowed some Aboriginal people to blame their circumstances on outside factors rather than looking within.
Stephen Conroy leaves politics like so many politicians, having simply feathered his own nest and enjoyed the power he had, without having achieved anything of significance for the public.
Please don’t suggest that without him Australia wouldn’t be working towards national broadband facilities. The fact is in most western nations the job has already been done by private enterprise with very little Government involvement and expenditure, providing customers with a range of competitive options. It would have happened quicker without him. But once he committed Australia to the Government NBN program and Labor passed legislation granting the monopoly the NBN Co., and agreeing to buy Telstra’s copper network, we were stuck with slow government delivery.
Some of us will remember Conroy for not disclosing the fact he spent some time while on holiday with Kerry Stokes in his private ski lodge, weeks before cutting license fees that are charged to free-to-air networks, including Stokes’ broadcasting Seven Network. Something the media would no doubt have deemed a sacking offence had it been a Coalition minister.
The media will also remember him for trying to pass legislation that would have significantly increased the minister’s power over the media — the Finkelstein inquiry wanted to regulate websites like this one. He eventually backed down from that.
The online community will remember him for trying to introduce internet censorship laws that North Korea would have been proud of. In June 2009 he was named “Internet villain of the year” at the 11th annual Internet industry awards in the UK, for “individuals or organisations that have upset the Internet industry and hampered its development – those whom the industry loves to hate.”
But his most infamous moment was in September 2012 when Conroy told an international telecommunications conference:
“The regulation of telecommunications powers in Australia is exclusively federal. That means I am in charge of spectrum auctions, and if I say to everyone in this room ‘if you want to bid in our spectrum auction you’d better wear red underpants on your head’, I’ve got some news for you. You’ll be wearing them on your head … I have unfettered legal power.”
That is the guy. Stephen Conroy was, always, full of his own self-importance. Otherwise he is pretty unremarkable both outside and inside of politics. The only genuinely great thing he has done is to resign from politics. Surely that will leave a gap for someone much more able than him.