Minchin tipped to replace Coonan in Communications and IT

Minchin tipped to replace Coonan in Communications and IT

The well-worn revolving door of the ministry of Communications IT and the Arts is creaking into motion again.

Both the Coalition and Labor look likely to shift their incumbent IT ministers into new portfolios as horse-trading for key jobs comes to a climax next week.

With the sale of Telstra a near certainty, sources close to the Coalition have indicated Prime Minister John Howard is considering a direct swap between Communications and IT Minister Helen Coonan and Finance Minister Nick Minchin.

"[Communications and IT] is probably the biggest job at the moment. It also carries a big risk because you want a good price for a big transaction," the source said.

"[Minchin] is a very strong possibility. It needs someone capable of understanding and managing the technical issues quickly. He probably has the numbers."

Another source close to the government described the sale of Telstra as now being "inseparable" with media cross-ownership reforms which needed "a set of safe hands to guide it through the process" with the ability to "pull people into line" if need be.

The same source added Minchin was a "logical and competent" choice for the Communications and IT portfolio because of his current role as the Coalition's internal disciplinarian and current responsibility for procurement and tendering.

A senior staffer at Senator Coonan's office said Coonan genuinely wanted to retain the Communications and IT portfolio, but could not rule out the possibility of a shift.

"We're more than happy to stay, it would be a great challenge...but these decisions aren't up to us. Helen has met with everybody in the industry and put in the groundwork. We're not buying into speculation," the staffer said.

Opposition IT spokesperson Kate Lundy may also be on the move with Labor leader Mark Latham also set to reorganize his front bench. Having held the Opposition's IT portfolio together since 1997, Lundy confirmed she had thrown her hat in the ring for a shadow cabinet promotion, but refused to comment further.

"We'll have to see what happens," Lundy said.

Asked how the likely changes would impact the IT industry, Australian Computer Society (ACS) president Edward Mandla said it would be preferable to retain politicians who were familiar with IT issues in both the government and opposition.

"It will be the fourth [IT] minister in a year," Mandla said, adding the ACS had put in considerable groundwork to get key IT industry initiatives onto the political agenda.

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