Malcolm Turnbull vs Stephen Conroy

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Malcolm Turnbull has been promoted to the front bench of the Shadow Cabinet as the spokesperson for the Liberal party on broadband and communications, which could be either an inspired choice or an albatross around the neck for Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

Why inspired? Well, if there is one person in the Liberal party who knows his ultra-fast broadband, cloud computing, or 3G network technologies, it’s Turnbull. Almost lost to politics after being rolled as leader of the conservative party by Abbott et al, Turnbull had a change of heart and decided to remain and is now reaping the benefits of sticking around.

And being an albatross? Well, if he makes an impact, there are those in political circles who believe that Turnbull’s leadership ambitions have yet to be curtailed and if Prime Minister Julia Gillard makes a good fist of her second term in office, then Abbott could be for the chopping block.

So what does Turnbull bring to the table as far as being opposition spokesperson for broadband and communications? Quite a bit. For a start he was the chair and a major stakeholder of one of Australia’s first internet service providers, OzEmail, so he has intimate knowledge of how this technology is utilised, and would argue that he has a better idea of how a national broadband strategy should be implemented. In one of his first interviews with The Australian after being appointed Shadow Minister he went for the jugular immediately and called Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN) policy a “colossal destruction of taxpayers’ money”. Let’s face it, there’s no other item on the technological landscape within politics that comes close to dividing the political parties – the Liberals see it as a short-term, expensive solution while Labor has gone as far as to say the huge investment in infrastructure is on a parallel with the Snowy River Project.

But Turnbull does have to be careful. His position won’t win him any favours amongst the greater Australian public, especially those in regional areas who are set to benefit most from the NBN. And while he’ll have to tread a fine line, Labor will have to justify spending $43 billion worth of infrastructure, which could be a hard sell especially if, as some economists from the Chicken Little brigade predict, the world could suffer from a double-dip recession

And what about Current Minister of Broadband and Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy? How will he handle his latest nemesis in what seems a revolving door policy of opposition spokesmen since he got the portfolio? He’s a tough cookie, who has seen off Tony Smith, Nick Minchin and Bruce Billson but, unfortunately for those who like a little drama in their politics, will not be locking horns with Turnbull in the house because he’s a Senator. But there is an Achille’s heel of sorts in the government’s overall NBN strategy, which Turnbull has yet to take issue with – the unpopular internet filter. Still yet, this might be a moot point as the Greens now have the numbers in the Senate and they are opposed to the filter on philosophical grounds.

Who is the better person to champion a connected Australia? Well, at the risk of being called a fence-sitter, I think it’s a little bit of both. Each politician has the nouse and mettle to do the job, but with slightly different philosophies. I like the idea of a fully inclusive NBN, but baulk at the price. I’m also not too happy with the filter – more due to the ‘slippery slope’ analogy (ie, if they block this, that and the other, what’s to stop them going a few steps further later down the track). Conroy is a smart operator, and while he might not have the business background of Turnbull, or appear on any of the country’s rich lists, he does know his technology.

On the other hand, Turnbull will give Conroy a run for his money, but ambition could possibly get in the way of him making inroads as he might use his elevation to the front bench as a catalyst to resurrect his true aspiration – to become Prime Minister of Australia.

Who do you think will do the better job? Leave a comment.