Jason Clare will take on the role of communications spokesperson in new Labor leader Bill Shorten's shadow ministry. Michelle Rowland, the member for Greenway, will be shadow assistant minister for communications.
Clare, the member for Blaxland and minister for home affairs and minister for justice in the previous Labor government, will go up against Malcolm Turnbull, whose appointment as communications minister by Tony Abbott was warmly received by industry.
Turnbull has overseen a shake-up of the board NBN Co, the company in charge of rolling out the National Broadband Network. The NBN is currently subject to a strategic review assessing the state and future direction of the rollout.
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde described the decision to appoint Clare as puzzling. Labor has “some very good people” that would be a better match to take on the “strong team” of Turnbull and Paul Fletcher, parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications.
Budde said that former minister assisting for the digital economy Senator Kate Lundy, former parliamentary secretary for broadband Ed Husic and former communications minister Stephen Conroy, are examples of Labor parliamentarians who might be better positioned to take on the Coalition government in the battle over the future of the NBN.
“Obviously Conroy might not be the best person as he would be attacked for anything and everything that will go wrong, but the other two would in my opinion be good opposition people to be engaged in the future debates on this topic,” Budde said.
Conroy, the former communications minister, will be deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate and shadow minister for defence.
Conroy, who oversaw the rollout of the NBN under the former government, recently admitted that Labor had "underestimated the capacity of the construction industry to respond to the challenge" of building the NBN.
“I think Australia do need strong qualified people to engage in the NBN discussion going forward and I think it is a pity that those people have not been included [in the shadow ministry],” Budde said.
However, Mark Gregory, senior lecturer at RMIT University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a frequent commentator on the NBN project, said that Clare was a “strong choice” to be Labor’s communications spokesperson.
“He will need to be more vocal and present in the media than he has been in his previous roles, because winning the NBN war will be more than just a policy battle but one that includes maintaining public support for the NBN,” Gregory added.
“[Clare] brings substantial knowledge of the inner workings of government but will need to ensure that he has access to a team of technical and financial advisors that can assist him as the NBN review process goes into full swing.”