One of the biggest problems facing new PM Kevin Rudd over the weekend will be who he can choose to replace the remarkable Stephen Conroy as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
While Senator Kate Lundy of the ACT is seen as a hot favourite in some quarters, due to her long interest in this area and the links she has built, Rudd – given the contentious nature of the portfolio – may well prefer someone with perhaps less technical knowledge but sharpened negotiating skills and Conroy-style steely-eyed determination to drive a point home.
One possibility: Penny Ying-yen Wong, now – like Stephen Conroy before her – Labor’s leader of the Senate. Could she be persuaded to relinquish her current role as Finance Minister to take on Comms and Broadband?
Observers say she certainly has the inner steel – and, like Lundy, being based in the Senate would not face direct technological questioning by the well-informed Liberal spokesman Malcolm Turnbull.
Stephen Smith, the former Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, might have been a possibility, but he yesterday announced that after 20 years as member for Perth he would not contest the coming election.
Tony Burke, who steered through the contentious plan for the Murray-Darling basin against ferocious opposition, could be another possibility – as perhaps is Bill Shorten, a skilled negotiator whose switch of support to Kevin Rudd this week ensured Rudd’s return to the Labor leadership.
On the other hand, at least one commentator has suggested a fierce Conroy-style broadband minister might no longer be needed, though the job will certainly require a strong personality.
Said the widely respected Paul Budde of BuddeCom: “The future of the NBN is safe, and it will be important for the Government to find a minister who is an excellent salesperson” able to advocate “the advantages and advances of the NBN”.
The new minister will need to “be able to communicate with voters what the NBN is all about, how successful it is now and so on,” he told news site ARN.
Conroy, incidentally, unlike a number of other pro-Julia Gillard ministers, has not signalled any intention to leave Parliament, despite resigning his ministerial post and Senate leadership.