Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Conroy

It’s not just porn: Net filter will limit culture and public debate

I had such high hopes for Stephen Conroy as Communications Minister. After the corruption of Richard-what free tv-Alston and luddite Coonan (not to mention the decidedly not tech-savy Howard), Conroy seemed a breath of fresh air. Having watched him operate in several years of Estimates hearings, he clearly knew his way around a PC Whilst asking questions to officials (when in opposition) he often was able to quickly call up relevant data to challenge claims made by wayward or mis-informed ministers or their public servants. His boss may have been a bit socially conservative, but he could tweet & sms easily. That Conroy under Rudd’s direction has taken Australia into such a embarassing and frankly authoritarian direction online is therefore a great shame.
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Bringing down the Big (un)Friendly Giant

Breaking News:
Telstra to be split up

Senator Conroy told the media in Canberra this morning that he did not believe Telstra or its shareholders would need to be compensated under the plan. In early trade, Telstra shares were down seven cents at $3.17.

Under the legislation to be introduced to Parliament today, Telstra will be able to voluntarily submit to an “enforceable undertaking” with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to structurally separate.

If it chooses not to separate, the legislation allows the government to impose functional separation requiring Telstra to:

– conduct its network operations and wholesale functions at arm’s length from the rest of the company;
– provide the same price for its retail business and it does for other carriers in accessing its wholesale network;
– implement governance structures to make the separation transparent.

About time, though expect a clear backlash from Shareholders for the changes. But the Government should prevail. Howard ought to have made this change almost a decade ago, but squibbed in order to get a higher price in the sale. Money that was used largely for political purposes, buying out groups (such as environmentalists) to help justify the privatisation agenda. Privatisation has been an immensely profitable and sensible step, but allowing private monopoly control of core infrastructure cripples any resulting benefit. By returning this to public control it will enable significantly greater retail competition and lower prices and more data quotas for ISP consumers. Many of us believed the chance was lost when the final parts of Telstra were sold, but if the Rudd Government holds its nerve on this, it will be an important and useful step, enabling significantly greater competition in the telecommunication and ISP market. While the Liberals love deregulation, they have never supported competition policy (Paul Kelly’s book quotes Howard’s Chief of Staff Arthur Sinodinos saying Howard ‘hates the word’ competition.) Labor however since Keating has been able to claim this as a economic principle both in line with modern economics and long held party principles of social justice.

Good move Conroy.

Update: At the end of the trading day it was announced Telstra shares are down 14 cents to $3.11 a 4% drop (though the rest of the market dropped slightly too). Given the scope of this decision, isn’t the big news how little the market seems to mind? Its pretty good evidence Howard was wrong to baulk at splitting the company before selling.

The Gong Show

A fortnight ago I posted on the greatest of all political dangers: being laughed at. Stephen Conroy, your time is up:

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has admitted that Bill Henson images were added to the communications regulator’s list of prohibited websites in error, while blaming the addition of a dentist’s site to the blacklist on the “Russian mob”.

Meanwhile, the website of the Federal Government’s censorship body, the Classification Board, was hacked last night and defaced with an anti-censorship screed.

The admission by Senator Conroy on ABC television’s Q&A program last night casts significant doubt on the Government’s ability to filter the internet without inadvertently blocking legitimate websites.

Q&A was inundated with 2000 questions from the public about the Government’s hugely unpopular policy, and the audience last night ridiculed Senator Conroy by laughing at a number of his responses.

Senator Conroy, under siege after this website’s report yesterday afternoon that an innocuous link containing Henson’s artistic photographs of young boys had been added to the blacklist, said “the classification board looked at this website and actually said it’s PG”.

“A technical error inside ACMA I’m advised included it … but it was actually cleared by the Classification Board so it shouldn’t be on the list,” Senator Conroy said.

“I’ve asked ACMA in the last few hours to go through their entire list again to see if there are any other examples of this.”

What’s surprising in all this, is that Conroy always struck me as one of the sharpest and most IT savy politicians Labor has. I remember watching him in estimates committee hearings using his laptop to help question public servants and witless ministers. Whilst they squirmed or quibbled, he (and his office staff via email) were quickly google & hansard searching for contradictory statements or alternate evidence. It was effective, and back in 2003 & 2004 an original step.

Conroy will last until the next reshuffle, but expect Rudd (likely 6 months before the election) to move him somewhere new. I hear defence might soon be open?