Home People People Moves Conroy's departure leaves big shoes to fill

Wednesday's Labor leadership shakeup claimed a Prime Minister but it also claimed the head of the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history, Senator Stephen Conroy.

COMMENT. Despite his flaws, over his six years in government Conroy was an ambitious and visionary minister. Despite his many critics, he will be missed.

In his farewell speech yesterday Stephen Smith described Conroy as "misunderstood by many," a fair assessment and one that sums up the electorate's feelings overall. Just who was this guy, and what made him think he could filter our Internet and censor our media?

Conroy pushed a lot of people offside and made no shortage of enemies, a problem Gillard herself faced during her term as Prime Minister. Many Internet users were incensed by the problematic Internet filter proposal that was finally canned after years of to-ing and fro-ing. It was proposed that Conroy's Web censorship would be a system of mandatory filtering of overseas websites which were, or potentially would be, "refused classification" in Australia. 

Polling showed fewer than 10% of Australians were in favour of the proposal, and the truth is it would have cost a high number of votes (and freedoms), for little gain.

Predictably, the online reaction to Conroy's departure on Tuesday was largely one of celebration. "Thank god for that," wrote one user on Reddit. "Let's take to the streets!" wrote another. During his reign Conroy was a constant target of insult and ridicule, especially after the infamous ‘red underpants’ incident.

The bungled media reform meanwhile essentially pitted Conroy and the government against the mainstream media, not a deft political move for a party already under attack from Murdoch et al. The reforms themselves were contentious but at least defensible, yet Conroy opened himself up to criticism through the rushed and mishandled process. The Daily Telegraph had a field day comparing Conroy to the 20th century's worst dictators, while in an editorial The Australian described him as "one of Australia's worst ministers."

Conroy may have made some big mistakes, but he can also claim some big victories.

The National Broadband Network will reach almost 5 million premises by June 2016, delivering super-fast broadband across the country, not just to homes but to hospitals, schools and businesses. While it remains to be seen what direction the project takes from here, the NBN will be a big vote winner for Labor, when pitted directly against the Coalition's feeble alternative.

Conroy was an able salesman of the project, always passionate and full of statistics. He took it to his opposite number Malcolm Turnbull on a regular basis - one of the only Labor caucus members that could really do so.

On his last day of office on Tuesday he added $6 million to community radio, ensuring its future, at least in the mid-term.

We met a few times over the past couple of years in different contexts, and Conroy was always in a cheery mood and always a keen advocate for the government's achievements, and there have been many.

While some see gaffes like his 'red underpants' comments as condescending and un-ministerial, Conroy maintained a keen sense of humour and self-deprecation that few ministers could match.

The fact he framed and hung the infamous Daily Telegraph front page on his office wall speaks volumes. So does his Dalek Twitter image.

Australia needs more people like Conroy in politics. Opinionated, yes, but also driven by facts and a vision for the country. Conroy made mistakes, but I'll take a personable, audacious and colourful leader over an apathetic automaton any day.


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David Swan

David Swan is a tech journalist from Melbourne and is iTWire's Associate Editor. Having started off as a games reviewer at the age of 14, he now has a degree in Journalism from RMIT (with Honours) and owns basically every gadget under the sun.






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