Crikey: Outclassed Conroy hides in his bedroom

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[This article was originally published in Crikey on Tuesday 17 February, but behind the paywall. I think enough time has passed for it to sneak out — particularly as one commenter called it “the most unworthy article Crikey has ever published”. Thanks.]

Cool newcomer. Rising talent. That’s Greens Senator Scott Ludlam as described by Crikey’s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane last year. He’s right, too.

Yesterday [Monday] I explained how Senator Stephen Conroy popped out of his lair, announced (some of) the ISPs in the internet “filtering” trials, and scurried away — leaving everyone’s questions unanswered. Perhaps he hoped the story would be buried by discussions of bushfires and the stimulus package. But no.

In an op-ed piece for ABC News yesterday, Senator Ludlam nailed why. “The interwebs never sleep,” he reminds us.

Within minutes of Conroy’s 5.25pm media release, Twitter was, well, a’twitter with speculation and then analysis. Within hours, without any central control, a consensus emerged about what the choice of ISPs meant. With its focus on small business-oriented ISPs, the trials won’t reflect the realities of home internet usage, and the government can string out the process just a little bit longer.

“Senator Conroy is trapped by something akin to a virtual hydra,” writes Ludlam.

“Every time he ‘responds’ to one piece of criticism, numerous other more refined, more powerful and more targeted arguments arise from all sides.”

To paraphrase The Guardian’s social media strategist Meg Pickard, who spoke in Sydney last week, the audience is now smarter than you are because they have more time and there’s more of them.

Government ministers no longer own the conversation. Nor does anyone else, for that matter. While Senator Conroy may assert that “the Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech”, no-one actually cares what the government’s view is. The conversation has its own life. And Conroy has bailed out. He’s ceded the field.

“He’s acquiesced his leadership role in this debate, relegating himself to the status of a mere observer, allowing his critics to run the show,” says network engineer Mark Newton, one of Conroy’s most credible and persistent critics.

“I couldn’t care less what Conroy does next, because he’s an irrelevant loser in the wider context of this debate … Every time he’s [made public statements] he’s inevitably been embarrassed by the responses of an army of online correspondents who have fact-checked him into oblivion.”

Conroy, who’s presumably used to getting his own way as a Labor Right head-kicker, has sulked off to his room, slammed shut the door, turned up the music REALLY LOUD AND I HOPE YOU WILL ALL JUST GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY I HATE YOU!

Conroy’s left his poor media advisor (who I’m reliably informed is a nice guy who deserves better) to post the passive-aggressive notes on the fridge — sorry, to answer all questions by copying and pasting boilerplate from the media release.

Not a good look.

Not what you’d call “leadership”.

Not what you’d call “being in control of the issue”.

I’m guessing Senator Conroy is secretly very happy that the Great Imploding Opposition is providing a useful distraction from his own performance. For now.

Meanwhile that Greens senator bloke is making sense, eh?

“We’re all in vociferous agreement about what won’t work. But what will? Can this enormously empowered campaign speak with one cogent voice about what we’re for?” he asks.

“How do we empower parents … and law enforcement agencies…? Is there a way to adequately prepare children to understand other threats such as cyber-bullying, without asphyxiating the greatest information sharing tool in history?”

Any suggestions, Senator Conroy?

You’ll have to come out of there eventually, Senator.

5 Replies to “Crikey: Outclassed Conroy hides in his bedroom”

  1. The results of the trials wont be released for several months… I can’t see Conroy cutting his hibernation short before then.

  2. @Bourkie: I suspect Conroy’s waiting for some Good News in there somewhere. The two big-ticket items on his agenda, the National Broadband Network and the Cyber-Safety program’s filter-the-internet plan are both way behind schedule and mired in controversy. The digital TV switchover is way late too — though that’s not entirely his fault.

    His office is now squirting out feel-good media releases about Victorian bushfire relief and technology for the disabled and helping sick children. But “Conroy as the Nice Guy” doesn’t seem like an authentic representation, eh?

    As I say, he should be bloody thankful that the attention is on the Opposition at the moment. That can’t last forever.

  3. This may be the first example of what all governments will fear and and have to content with in future — the collective fury of the electorate that is aggregated and syndicated into a collective whole that promotes the best ideas and analysis to counter government stupidity. Together we are better and smarter than any government and they should fear us — we do control the conversation now. Our progress towards near real time consensus on policy issues like this could fundamentally fracture and reconfigure politics and democracy. Our consensus policy is to trash the filter. Conroy’s job as our appointed bureaucrat in charge of this area is to implement our policy. He can sulk behind closed doors (has any minister ever had a lower public profile?) but we’ll soon show him the door. 🙂

  4. “How do we empower… law enforcement agencies…?”

    Well, I believe Stephen Conroy’s got around $150 million he’s spending on a list of websites. I imagine a large chunk of that (I assume there’s some left) would do something to help out the agencies that could actually do something useful with it. Something effective. Something the electorate might actually support.

    But will Steven FIELDING support giving the money to law enforcement instead of building a Nanny Wall?

  5. @Fitzroyalty: I agree that this may well be the first example of the hyperconnected mob making a difference in Australian politics. However, in the marble halls of Parliament House, Canberra, they still think it’s all irrelevant chattering without substance.

    I’ve heard that Conroy’s advisers think those opposing the filter are irrelevant because, while there may be plenty of sound and fury online, they don’t gather in vast numbers on the street. They’ll imagine that reports of fewer than 200 people at yesterday’s rally in Canberra indicate weakness.

    They are wrong.

    What they forget is that the aim is to effect change, not gather for a rally. What they forget is that politics is about making connections and organising thought. They can’t do that without gathering in one place and having a central organisation because they don’t know any other way to proceed.

    They will learn.

    @Andy: The budget of the Rudd government’s Cyber Safety program is $125M-odd, of which $44M-odd is for the filter program. This may well change in the federal budget in May. That’s only two months away, and a lot can happen between now and then.

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