Whether we like it or not, survival for politicians is about managing public perceptions. Lose the punters’ support through a lack of common sense and stubbornness and you sink. Come across as logical, determined and down-to-earth and you swim.
It’s politics 101 and if the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, hasn’t learnt this yet, then somebody needs to give him a good rocket.
In fact, he should take a look at the way his stable mate the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, has dealt with ICT issues since the Rudd government took the reins.
Tanner and his razor gang has overseen the biggest overhaul of the $6 billion Federal Government ICT spend – the Gershon Review – and to date has emerged relatively unscathed, despite ruffling more than few feathers in the industry.
At an Australia Computer Society (ACS) conference in Canberra last week, he laid out his views on cutting contractors, streamlining procurement, reduced spending, developing a whole-of-government datacentre approach and other expected Gershon impacts.
All of these topics negatively affect one interest group or another in a significant way. But Tanner, by engaging the media and public at large and logically outlining the facts behind his decisions, has escaped the kind of barrage Conroy is now receiving.
Conroy is being belittled for the way he has handled what should be two good ICT news stories for Australia: The NBN and attempts to eradicate scourges like child porn on the Internet.
By setting low requirements for the NBN and refusing to open up on the tender process he has fudged one of the best opportunities for Australia to finally take a lead in connectivity and show its ICT prowess.
By confusing the issue of child pornography and other illegal activities with an ill-advised Internet filtering scheme he has wasted taxpayer money and positioned IT as part of the problematic issue of censorship rather than as part of a law enforcement solution.
And by refusing to give interviews to the media and only pump out press releases – a daily affair for the Minister – he has missed a key opportunity to engage the broader ICT community and develop a constructive conversation on ICT topics.
A couple of months ago Tanner and Conroy set up a blog together - and I applaud them for that move. But Tanner has since given regular interviews to the media and has survived remarkably well. Conroy hasn’t and look where he is now.
Regardless of how the two deal with the industry behind closed doors in their respective discussions on the issues, if they don’t get the punters on-board then in the end they will sink.
The question now is: Will Conroy’s stubborn adherence to failing ideas and refusal to engage the media bring the rest of the Labor party down with him? Looking at the overwhelming response the punters have had to his moves, it’s fair to say he is the dead weight.