What Stephen Conroy wants, Stephen Conroy gets. Right now that means we’re all paying for the infrastructure needed to create the National Broadband Network, whether we want it or not.
“It’s Conroy’s single-mindedness that matters,” says Intel managing director Philip Cronin. “Just that dogged determination, that belief the marketplace, in his view, failed to build communication infrastructure for the 21st century.”
“He’s been waylaid because of the politics,” adds advertising king Harold Mitchell, “but when you stand back from all of that you can see that Stephen just pushes and pushes and pushes.”
Conroy’s translated his vision for super high-speed broadband into a $35.9 billion infrastructure plan, formed the body that will see its implementation and operation, NBN Co, and persuaded the folks over at Telstra to get on board. Once rolled out, the NBN will provide the digital media sector with the ability to take its products and services to the next level.
The factional warlord, Chelsea fan and user of three-word alliterative phrases — he’s thrown around ones such as “she sells seashells” into parliamentary debates on 697 occasions, according to openaustralia.org — is a console gaming fanatic who gets his way with legislation
He’s said to like power for the sake of policy and as the “minister for the future” he can actually get things done that make a big difference. He’s been busy of late too, having launched a media inquiry, halted Sky’s bid for the Australia Network and tweaked the anti-siphoning list.
We’ve put him at the top of the Digital Media power list because without him, Australia would not be rolling out the National Broadband Network.
Born in the cathedral town of Ely, just north of Cambridge, England, to parents who worked on an air-force base (mum Jean searched for incoming missiles by monitoring radar, dad Bill was a sergeant who later became a computer engineer), he told The Sydney Morning Herald that he was the kid with the accent when he arrived in Canberra during the early 1970s.
But although Conroy watched his father maintain the Customs computer mainframe in Canberra as a kid, he’s nothing like the other nine geeks, entrepreneurs and digital management gurus on this list. Senator Conroy is often seen as the enemy. He was once named the global “internet villain of the year” for his work on the proposed mandatory ISP filtering policy, and he’s launched several scathing attacks on Facebook and Google over privacy concerns.
“Conroy knows absolutely nothing at all about digital media. He has influence, while knowing absolutely nothing,” says a former digital media company CEO. A digital strategy guru adds: “He can’t engage at the level many digital specialists are expected to engage at.”
So how on Earth has he managed to get the NBN on track?
For starters. he’s a talented politician. One half of the leadership behind the “Short-Cons” faction of the Victorian ALP (the other is Bill Shorten) he is a natural-born deal maker and numbers man who learnt his tricks during his time at the Transport Workers Union from the legend of political fixing: Robert Ray.
Then there’s his style. He’s aggressive, direct and has the always-up-for-a-fight crew-cut hairstyle to match. He was in good form while launching the media inquiry in September. “I don’t need a media inquiry to tell me The Daily Telegraph is biased,” he said bluntly. And he’ll step on friends and foes to get what he wants. He’s been described as a “factional dalek” by Robert Ray (the two had a mysterious falling out), “disloyal” by Simon Crean and a “jihadist” by Mark Latham.