Stephen Conroy: Our sneering, sarcastic, patronising, grudge-bearing minister for filtering the internet

This week, I spent longer inside the mind of media minister Stephen Conroy than I would necessarily recommend.  

The reason was as we’ve written in various posts his performance at the Senate Estimates Committee.

Reading the transcript has, I must admit, made me change my mind about him.

You see, when he was saying some of the more extreme stuff about his proposed internet filter over the last few months, I assumed it was just politics. I thought he was grandstanding on family values while of course knowing that it wouldn’t fly.

But when you read his thoughts (you can find the 131 page trasncript here if you like), it’s enough to make you think again about him both as a person and as a minister.

(A slight declaration of interest at this point –  unlike Rupert Murdoch, I’ve sat next to Conroy at dinner, within a few days of him being appointed. At that stage he seemed throughouly affable, if more interested in talking about soccer than media policy.)

But the person who comes across in the transcript is a sneering, sarcastic grudge-bearing point scorer. And one who won’t give a straight answer to a straight question, at that.

Even for a politician, his refusal to define the word “soon” in respect to the mysterious (wind-the-clock-down-til-after-the-election?) delays in the anti-siphoning review was laughable.

And he’s got his patronise setting firmly at “kill”. Reading his words when asked about plans to help remote homes receive TV signals,  suggested a minister with something to hide.

“The answer is that all SBS channels will be available on a satellite to every Australian, across the entire landmass of Australia. That is what a satellite does. It is a remarkable invention. They have been around a few years.”


“The remarkable thing about satellites is that they are a relatively new invention of about 50 years ago and they provide a pretty good service around the rest of the world.”


“The signal will be provided and miraculously, when signals were turned on with terrestrial, they also needed a receiving piece of equipment otherwise usually referred to as a TV.”

But most of all, it’s the grudge bearing. He took a right kicking from the Murdoch press when he gave a giant rebate to the TV networks on what sounded at the time a very flimsy excuse – that it was to help them achieve local content targets they already legally have to attain anyway.

So his suggestion (several times – not as a single aside) that this was because of the wisdom of Rupert Murdoch appeared very much like he was choosing the words most likely to infuriate the News Ltd camp. Which seems like an amazingly risky strategy for any politician. It certainly suggests that relations have broken down. One can’t help wonder if the fact that he’s never met Murdoch there might be an element of pique. Again, the transcript seems to imply it.

One even comes to admire his bravery a little as one continues to read and discover Conroy picking fights not just with Murdoch but with Facebook and Google too. He seems to have a lot of enemies at present. Indeed, the free TV bosses may be his only powerful friends.

At best he comes across as testy and defensive.

While I never thought Australia had a brilliant media minister, I thought he was probably okay.

For those who have reached the conclusion ahead of me, forgive me for being slow on the uptake. Conroy is no good at his job.


Tim Burrowes


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