Anthony Albanese is likely to bring a less bullish approach to the NBN portfolio than his predecessor, Senator Stephen Conroy, in the lead-up to the federal election, according to political commentator Nick Economou.
Kevin Rudd appointed Albanese to the role, and to the role of deputy PM, after ousting Julia Gillard from leadership of the parliamentary Labor party. Economou, senior lecturer at Monash University, said that Albanese’s appointment to the broadband portfolio indicates how important the NBN is for the Labor government.
“Rudd clearly thinks is an important policy that will be the sort of thing that he is trying to appeal for those to vote Labor on and put it the hands of one of [the] most prominent ministers,” Economou said. “Anthony Albanese is nothing if not prominent.”
Although Albanese does not bring Conroy's lengthy experience to the role of Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Economou said this is unlikely to be an impediment to pushing Labor's NBN policy.
“It doesn’t matter because under the Westminster system you don’t need to be an expert to hold a ministerial position. You have a department who has that expertise,” Economou said.
The academic expects to see a “qualitative change” with how Albanese engages with industry and other stakeholders when it comes to the NBN compared to Conroy.
“It’s how you sell your message. It’s really not about policy now. It’s about politics,” he said.
Mark Gregory, senior lecturer at RMIT University, believes Albanese will continue to push NBN Co to get the network rollout back on track, which will mean fixing the asbestos issue that has recently dogged the NBN.
Gregory said the new broadband minister should hold meetings with key stakeholders in the telco industry, such as consumer groups, to make his presence “felt”.
As the federal election nears, Gregory said Albanese should focus on bigger picture problems in the telco industry, such as high prices and poor competition.
“Albanese is yet to show that he can take on Turnbull and swing the debate towards an overall plan that contains specific details relating to some of the major problems with the telecommunications industry,” he said.
Conroy's tenure in the communications portfolio was not controversy-free. Even leaving aside the political hot potato of the NBN, the former minister's spearheading of the push for a mandatory Internet filter and questions over the blocking of websites using section 313 of the Telecommunications Act raised the ire of telco industry players and civil libertarians.
However, Economou said the former minister was even more controversial as a factional player in the Labor party.
“He’s a combative guy because that’s where he’s come from. He hasn’t come to politics because he’s good at getting large numbers of voters to vote for him in the electorate or by schmoozing his way around,” Economou said.
“He got through because he’s a brutal political operator – and still is. He’ll have a huge influence over pre-selection decisions in the weeks to come and I think he took that sort of brutal approach to politics into his role as a minister as well and he was quite comfortable taking on powerful actors.”
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