Prime Minister Julia Gillard has included the new role of Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity in her Ministerial line-up Senator Stephen Conroy has been appointed to the post in addition to retaining his role as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
Senator Conroy will remain responsible for the National Broadband Network (NBN), a policy initiative that was instrumental in giving Labor the two key Independent votes needed to form government.
But Prime Minister Gillard has indicated that in his new role, Conroy will also be responsible for broadband-impacted policies that cross portfolio lines.
In a statement issued on Saturday September 11, Ms Gillard said this new Ministry will be involved in “assisting me across the whole of Government, whether it’s health, whether it’s education, whether it’s any part of government”.
Former Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has also been promoted in the new Ministry, replacing Lindsay Tanner as Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Mr Tanner had been responsible for key ICT initiatives spearheaded by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) such as Gov 2.0 and open government, coordinated ICT procurement and the implementation of the Gershon Review recommendations.
However, with the appointment of Stephen Conroy to the Digital Productivity Ministry, it is unclear whether the incoming Finance Minister would retain responsibility for the ongoing management of Tanner’s initiatives or whether they will now fall to Conroy. A further tantalising question is whether AGIMO will find itself back in its previous home within the communications portfolio.
Yet to emerge is which Minister would be ultimately responsible for any broadband projects which are now given the go ahead by Government (including any included in the last budget), and therefore, which Department would manage their implementation.
For example, Ms Gillard has made clear that Nicola Roxon will retain responsibility for the health and ageing portfolio, including e-health initiatives. But some e-health services, such as the telemedicine and videoconferencing schemes that were a central plank of Labor’s election agenda, are dependent upon the broadband network and would therefore fit under Gillard’s description of Conroy’s new role.
Furthermore, considering the priority placed on broadband and rural health and education services by the now-crucial Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, there is a question as to what role the new Minister for Regional Australia, Simon Crean, will have in the roll-out of these initiatives, relative to Senator Conroy’s over-arching digital productivity responsibilities.
The new Ministry is expected to be sworn in by the Governor-General on Tuesday 14 September, at which point the new Ministerial Portfolios will come into effect.