The ICT Industry and Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, have a self-affirmation complex. For too long they have told each other how good going digital will be for the economy and society at large, without seriously engaging many sectors of those likely to be affected.
A case in point was an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) lunch last week at the NSW Parliament building in Sydney. Conroy told the who’s who audience of ICT personalities they had to get the message that the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the digital economy were hugely beneficial to the nation’s future out to punters of all shapes, sizes and creeds.
Almost without exception - bar a few journalists in the room – attendees nodded their heads in agreement.
To be sure, many, including myself agree it is supremely important for the greater population to understand the kinds of benefits (and the risks) that smart technologies and the NBN will bring to individuals, organisations and the society generally.
But, do you think Conroy would do any journalists in the room the courtesy of answering their questions in the same way he responded to industry attendees? Not surprisingly for many, he exhibited an obvious disdain at the slightest hint a question was coming from a journo and refused to engage seriously.
There is no way he would have belittled any of the non-media representatives in the room with such disrespect so why is it acceptable to do it to journalists who are just as much a part of the industry? Not good Minister, not good.
Conroy stressed the importance of getting the right messages out to all sectors of the economy but how does he expect to do that when he refuses to respond to media questions with any semblance of sincerity in his words and demeanour, or to help it understand the processes and key issues involved?
The ICT industry might be onboard already and know what Senator Conroy is trying to achieve as was evident at the AIIA lunch, but the public is far from convinced – check the comments posted on any NBN story and you will see what I mean.
The Minster’s continued refusal to grant interviews is perplexing when the media are the very people that provide that information to the public.
Unfortunately, there has also been little public call from any industry representatives for Conroy to open up and few have taken any steps to create a serious discourse with the public about the benefits of ICT.
In my book, both of these points are glaring mistakes the ICT Industry and Conroy have made. If you want to win over the public – talk to them and not each other.
Tonight, Conroy launches a much-awaited paper titled, Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions in Sydney at another industry event. In it he is expected to outline the key areas of focus for government, industry and the community to promote Australia’s success in the digital economy.
Let’s hope somebody in the industry has the gumption to publicly demand the Minister heed his own call. Essentially, if Conroy has an image problem then so will the NBN and the digital economy, and that doesn't benefit the industry.