When Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, attended a press conference with Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to announce a deal with Senator Nick Xenophon, he wore the look of a sidestepped man.
Of the many questions launched at the pair during a lengthy press conference on November 24, none were aimed at the Minister Conroy – except for one from the Prime Minister.
Earlier that day Independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, agreed to pass the legislation in exchange for a 36-page summary of NBN Co’s business case being publicly released prior to the vote. The backdown came after months of adamant refusal from the Senator Conroy.
“I’ve said very clearly we will no be releasing the business case,” he said during the election campaign. “This is an entirely manufactured, confected debate started by the Liberal Party to try and slow down the NBN.
“Waste of time, waste of effort, waste of money.”
Months later as Conroy faced the possible failure of a Bill years in the making, it took intervention from a higher power to make a deal possible.
“I don’t think we would’ve gotten to this stage without the PM’s intervention,” Xenophon told journalists. “I just think the Prime Minister managed to cut through on this and we had a breakthrough.”
To many punters and pollie-watchers, the party’s compromise was a humiliating sign that Gillard had lost confidence in her Minister – that Conroy had lost his mojo and that his stubbornness almost cost the Government the vital legislation.
But anyone who thinks Conroy will go the way of former Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, and be sidelined without real power have it dead wrong.
Conroy is a Minister who is more than happy to face a wall of flak. If the Internet filtering policy proved one thing, it was that he will stick to his position despite taking heavy fire from people both inside and outside his party.
While some might see his stubborn refusal to change his mind as a failing for a senior politician, Conroy has proven to be a relatively effective Communications Minister. He understands the issues, speaks regularly with the tech industry and talks to knowledgeable sources.
So although Gillard was forced to play big sister and personally intervene, the Communications Minister is unlikely to lose any of his clout. And those who underestimate him do so at their peril.