Why Kate Lundy Might Get Stephen Conroy’s Job

I read a most excellent article by David Ramli this morning, discussing reasons why Kate Lundy will not be getting Stephen Conroy’s DBCDE ministerial portfolio. The article makes a lot of perfectly logical points, and I’ll be the first to admit that the scenario it discusses could be absolutely exactly what eventuates.

Certainly, there are many in the Australian and worldwide community – myself included of course – who would love nothing more than to see Conroy lose the portfolio. The malaise that is his proposed mandatory internet filtering scheme, and his ferocious arm-waving attacks at internet heavyweights such as Google and Facebook, has shown that his ability to remain rational when his own position/opinion is analysed/attacked/criticised must be questioned, at least on some level.

As I have discussed in numerous articles, he has demonstrated that he does not understand many of the concepts he is trying legislate for, and that he often lies or is so blind to the things he does not understand, that any attempt by anyone who tries to demonstrate his lack of knowledge is labelled “a supporter of child pornography” or “misleading the Australian public”. There are ample examples where Conroy himself has shown to be misleading the Australian public.

Ask yourself what would happen to you with your own employer if you were continually caught out lying to, and misleading your management, and demonstrating a lack of understanding towards the tasks you were being asked to complete. You wouldn’t last very long. Of course, politics and politicians live against a completely different set of realities, often aligned to size of the cheque promised by various lobby and interest groups.

When it comes to the government’s so called “Cyber Safety Plan”, and the mandatory internet filtering proposal, the power of Jim Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby certainly has a big impact on the debate, and the position Senator Conroy steadfastly holds, despite massive and still growing opposition.

Taking a look back at the past week of stunning events in Canberra, we saw the first sitting Australian Prime Minister to be dumped by his party before the first term of his government could be completed. The sudden departure of Kevin Rudd has surprised many, not the least of whom was Rudd himself.

In analysing what is approaching with the pending cabinet reshuffle by new Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and what many hope is the removal of Stephen Conroy from the control of communications policy, one must first look at why Rudd was removed.

His leadership style was clearly at odds with many in his party, and his policy set disturbed many Australian people, as well as previously loyal members of his team. The public opinion polls proved this, and sealed his fate. The Labor caucus, fearful of losing the upcoming election took action, and installed Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

In only three days, Gillard has already showed signs of easing on some policy matters, most notably the so-called “Resource Super Profits Tax”, proposed against the mining industry. She herself has said that the change in leadership was brought about because many in the party believed that the government was “losing its way”, and has signalled that policy direction needs to more closely align with public opinion.

Which brings us back to Stephen Conroy, Kate Lundy, and the mandatory internet filtering scheme. Gillard rose to the leadership with massive support from Labor’s right factions, in which Conroy is a major powerbroker. Given the support of the right, it may be distasteful to many in those factions to strip Conroy of his position.

However, if Gillard is serious about bringing support back to the Labor party with the removal of Rudd and some popular changes in policy direction, the filter policy should be firmly in the cross-hairs. She has a number of options.

She could replace Conroy with Lundy, who supports the filter in a non-mandatory form. This would garner a lot of public support, particularly within the ICT industry.

She could break the DBCDE into two, and give a new broadband portfolio to Conroy, as he has certainly got the runs on the board regarding the National Broadband Network, and getting Telstra to the table to compete in that project – and give communications and digital economy to Lundy – areas where she has demonstrated far more knowledge, experience, and understanding than has Conroy.

She could keep the department in its current form, and give the ministership to someone completely different, or split the department the same way as above, and give the new roles to two completely different people again.

Finally, she could keep the department as is, keep Conroy, but insist that the wildly unpopular mandatory filtering scheme is dropped.

Leaving Conroy in some ministerial portfolio – whether it be in his current or a modified role – would appease the factions. Lundy has garnered significant support from the industry to which the department dictates government policy, and would be a popular minister.

The battle line is drawn. Gillard now has to walk the tightrope between maintaining her support from the factions who lifted her to the top job in Australia, and raising the fortunes of her new government in the polls, as the federal election looms.