You just have to love the Australian Financial Review, which I used to buy daily, but alas no longer because of it’s left wing bias.
But this article by Dominic White sums up the proposed new Labor media regulations:
“In boardrooms, newsrooms and backrooms across Australia this week, there has been a liberal dose of schadenfreude at the woes of senator Stephen Conroy, the man who was a Labor headkicker long before he was a minister of the crown.
After years of open loathing of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Conroy introduced his six bills that would reshape and freshly regulate the media industry in Australia. But he didn’t count on the wave of opposition to the legislation – not just from the media but also from the crossbench MPs whose votes are critical.
Many observers, including numerous Labor colleagues, feel Conroy has let his hatred of Murdoch and News get the better of him. It now appears to have been a huge misjudgment that could be the catalyst to end Julia Gillard’s leadership.
Such a view of Conroy’s culpability ignores the fact that the Prime Minister shares his bloodlust against News and is said to have completely backed the introduction of the legislation. But the joy at Conroy’s pain shows the level of antipathy held by many in business, politics and the media.
Anyone who has been on the wrong side of Conroy – and it is not a small club – is unlikely to forget the experience quickly.
In July 2009 the Communications Minister took personal exception to a page one feature I had written in The Australian Financial Review. It suggested that Telstra held the trump card in its negotiations with Labor’s national broadband network because NBN Co needed access to the telco’s ageing copper network.
On the morning the story appeared, Conroy called to explain why I was an utter disgrace to journalism. Confidentiality prevents me from disclosing what he said. But he was by turns barking with rage, quietly menacing, overbearing and profane.
It was ultimately a constructive conversation but a shock contrast to the matey minister who loves to banter about Collingwood and the English Premier League, and an insight into how this son of an airforce sergeant operates in the backrooms of power.
It is a story that will come as no surprise to those who have dealt with Conroy in his years as a union officer and politician.
This is shaping up to be a defining week in Conroy’s career. While the media reforms are naturally grabbing most of the headlines from a self-interested media that is often accused of navel gazing, Conroy’s other major policy initiative, the national broadband network, is also looking shaky.
The 50-year-old, UK-born senator is well used to a good fight. He made his political name as a factional headkicker for the Labor Right. He then forced Telstra to the negotiating table with NBN Co by threatening to chop the former monopoly into little pieces.
But progress on the $37.4 billion project remains painfully slow almost six years to the day after Conroy and then-prime minister Kevin Rudd announced their initial “fibre-to-the-node” policy, which was scrapped four years ago in favour of the more ambitious and expensive “fibre-to-the-home” network.
After reports in the AFR, Conroy is under intense pressure to admit that the project is woefully behind schedule. Industry sources have said NBN Co will barely meet half of its target by the end of June.
Conroy says he is still waiting on information from the government-owned company. Meanwhile the hapless organisation seems to be working out how to admit the shortfall without getting egg on its face, or that of its minister.
It’s a bitter irony for Conroy, given that Labor’s popular broadband policy effectively won the party the last election after independents backed its pledge to prioritise the roll-out in the bush.
Not that the NBN will ever be completed in its current form.
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has said the Coalition will undertake radical surgery on the project if it wins the next election.
Turnbull has also threatened to junk most of Conroy’s media reforms if they are passed and the Coalition is elected. But it looks increasingly like he won’t have to bother. The most controversial aspects of the package are set to be scrapped after independents Craig Thomson and Rob Oakeshott declared they would oppose the entire package and the other five crossbenchers indicated they had serious misgivings.
Launching the reforms last Tuesday after rail-roading them through a stunned cabinet and caucus, Conroy said there would be no negotiations.
But now Gillard has stepped in, calling for “cool and steady heads”, trying to salvage them and considering amendments to assuage the Greens and the crossbenchers including Bob Katter.
Some in the Labor Party were dismayed that Conroy was taking on Rupert Murdoch in an election year with plans for a Public Interest Media Advocate to oversee the Press Council and with the power to potentially prevent News Ltd from acquiring a free-to-air television network.
The opprobrium heaped on the package by News Ltd chief executive Kim Williams was as predictable as it was colourful. But Conroy might have at least hoped for more support from Kerry Stokes.
Conroy’s laws make permanent the reduction in the free-to-air TV networks’ licence fees that he introduced in the run-up to 2010 election, a month after an afternoon spent skiing with Stokes in Colorado.
But Stokes is concerned that the new laws would make it possible for Nine Entertainment Co to merge with regional player Southern Cross Austereo and has called Conroy’s proposals for the PIMA “intrusive” and “draconian”. Some in the party initially thought Conroy’s efforts to ramrod the reforms through in the last two sitting weeks of Parliament were a smokescreen to draw attention away from Gillard’s faltering leadership ahead of the May budget, in which Labor will get a chance to dangle some pre-election goodies.
But that theory has been proved wrong. Gillard believed the reforms would go through and banked on support from the Greens and independents Oakeshott, Thomson and Tony Windsor.
The Prime Minister has judged it very wrongly and now fresh rumours of a leadership challenge are afoot.
She may yet rue her backing of a minister who Conroy’s bitter Labor rival, Simon Crean, once described as “venal”.
In March 2006, after Crean was forced to fight for his seat in a pre-selection campaign in Victoria, he accused Conroy of co-ordinating the battle.
Crean, now Minister for Regional Australia, said Labor should learn a lesson from its handling of the media package.
“We are where we are and we have to deal with it through a better process,” he told reporters in Canberra this week.
“I hope it is another lesson to all of us about the right way to do things.”
To a minister like Conroy, that’s fighting talk. But this time he might not get his own way.
And his belligerence could yet prove to be the final factor in the demise of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.”