Stephen Conroy


Start-up community leaders say change in PM creates opportunity

6:42PM | Thursday, 27 June

Leaders from the Australian start-up community say while there will be little immediate impact from Kevin Rudd ousting Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, the new environment and leadership team has created a better opportunity for working with the government.   Mick Liubinskas, co-founder of leading start-up incubator Pollenizer told StartupSmart the spill has generated a more risk-friendly leadership team, ripe for conversation and “aggressive action on innovation”.   “The way the Labor Party is right now, they’ll be looking at ways to grow innovation. We’re looking at a new team with short space of time before an election, who may be more likely to take risks,” Liubinskas says.   “Being an election year, we have the opportunity to get the ear of in power to see if they can put an election promise in.”   Liubinskas says there have been ups and downs with Gillard and Senator Stephen Conroy, who had been the driver of the national broadband network but who has resigned as the minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy.   “Conroy with the internet filter and Prime Minister Gillard with the 457-visas, those things have been looked on negatively by the technology industry,” he says.   Liubinskas says the start-up community has big plans for working with government to build a strong entrepreneurial culture in Australia.   “We have long term plans and we hope to do that with the government. But innovation can’t afford to be party-based because it’s too important,” says Liubinskas.   “Australia has a big opportunity, but also a responsibility, to look at what will be the next industry after mining, and innovation should be the prime option,” says Liubinskas, who points out entrepreneurialism and innovation is a high value add, exportable option that’s good for the economy, education and health.   Sebastian Eckersley-Maslin, the chief executive at investment group and tech start-up accelerator Blue Chilli, says the spill will have limited impact as two key policy changes the start-up community needed have both been already introduced.   “I’m still digesting it myself,” Eckersley-Maslin told StartupSmart. “The biggest change we wanted has already been announced.”   Eckersley-Maslin says this was the review of employee share schemes.   He added the community is also keen to see progress on the idea of lowering the minimum required amount for government matching of early stage venture capital firms from $10 million to $5 million.   Eckersley-Maslin adds he hopes the removal of Australia’s first female prime minister won’t have a negative impact on encouraging women to step into leadership roles and take risks.   “A lot of the backlash she was facing was as a woman, from puppeteering by the media. Australia voted her in, and her party voted her out,” Eckersley-Maslin says.   Blue Chilli has a 50-50 gender split across the company, and 42% of its founders are female.   “That’s pretty rare in the IT tech investment space,” says Eckersley-Maslin. “We’ve still got the Governor-General and a female lord mayor of Sydney, so there are still women leaders out there, but I am looking forward to when we have another female prime minister.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Banks attack hack notification law

6:23PM | Sunday, 23 June

The Australian Bankers Association has attacked a proposed new law forcing its members to notify customers when their security has been breached by hackers.   The bill is one of 50 being considered by Parliament in its final sitting week before the federal election on September 14.   “The real cost to banks involved with this legislation is the actual notification to affected customers," ABA policy director Ian Gilbert said.   "The breach may have arisen beyond the bank's control. For organisations with large customer bases, the notification requirement may result in a disproportionate cost compared with the possible harm caused by the breach."   Jobs growth in the retail sector   The retail sector added 34,000 jobs during the May quarter, with the number of people working in the sector up 47,000 year-on-year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.   The jobs growth coincided with a seasonally adjusted 3.1% year-on-year growth in retail turnover during April.   “In real terms, sales in the year to March were stronger for durable items like vehicles (up 17%), furnishings and house equipment (up 4.1%) and service items such as health (7.1%), education (up 2.8%), insurance and finance (up 3.4%), communications (up 2.6%) and recreation and culture (up 0.8%),” said Citi economist Josh Williamson.   Another Newspoll disaster for Gillard as Conroy considers new media reforms   Labor’s primary vote has fallen to just 29%, while Julia Gillard’s support as preferred prime minister fell from 35% to 33%, according to the latest Newspoll, which also shows the government now trails the opposition 57% to 43%.   Meanwhile, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has flagged the possibility of taking further media reforms to the federal election, after the government’s previous media reform package failed to gain support from key independent MPs in March.   “Obviously the policies weren't able to pass Parliament, they are dead, we wouldn't be proceeding with them or pursuing them. So we are having discussions among ourselves about what to take forward to the election," Conroy said.   "We have to reconsider all of the options, reconsider what we think we can achieve, and that's what I'm talking to my colleagues about at the moment."   “Labor's media regulation package was a classic example of Conrovian over-reach and mismanagement. Labor do not understand the importance of free speech and the primary role an independent media plays in our democracy," shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull said.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.28% to14799.4. The Aussie dollar is buying US92.24 cents.

Government announces review of employee share scheme and crowd-sourced equity regulations

6:49AM | Wednesday, 12 June

The government has today announced a review of the regulations around employee share schemes and crowd-sourced equity funding regulations.   According to the National Digital Economy Strategy (NDES) update announced in Brisbane today, this decision was made in order to “boost support for Australian tech start-ups” and would be focused on helping address the barriers faced by start-up companies in attracting and retaining staff.   In a release, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, said: “As the rollout of the NBN continues, the capacity for start-up companies, particularly in the tech and digital sectors, to create game-changing businesses and applications is unprecedented.”   The decision to review and simplify the employee share scheme options will be welcomed by the start-up and venture capital industries, who have been calling for such an update.   Phil Morle, founder and CEO of leading start-up incubator Pollenizer, told StartupSmart the announcement was good news for Australian start-ups.   “We welcome the review of share option regulations and look forward to new recommendations playing a major role in stimulating the start-up economy,” says Morle.   “To foster its swelling community of start-ups, Australia needs simple, fair and cost-effective ways for entrepreneurs to compensate each other with equity over cash. This recognises the risk taken when building new ventures which are strapped for cash and statistically likely to fail.” The move has also been welcomed by the Australian Industry Group. In a release,  Innes Willox, the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group said: "We also welcome the Government’s commitment to review the tax treatment of employee share schemes and to develop a best practice framework for Crowd Sourced Equity Funding, which Ai Group advocated in our recent report Ready or Not? Technology Investment and Productivity in Australian Businesses. We need to improve the conditions for innovation and commercialisation in Australia as a priority, including better access to financing." Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said in a release the feedback from the 2012 Digital Economy Forum pointed out the government could better support the development of start-ups, and it was therefore timely to re-examine the framework around the employee share schemes.   “The government can’t create the next Twitter, Instagram or 99 Designs, but we can provide the infrastructure and regulatory environment to help Australians who will,” said Conroy.   A consultation paper to guide the discussions will be released shortly. The employee share schemes review will be due by December 2013 and the crowd-sourced equity funding by April 2014.   The NDES update also announced an expansion of the Digital Enterprise and Local Government programs to support small businesses to better engage with the digital economy and make use of emerging online opportunities.

Young entrepreneurs lobby Canberra for seed funding for job creators

6:26AM | Thursday, 6 June

A group representing young entrepreneurs in Australia has called on the federal government to create a $20 million loan fund to encourage the creation of new businesses and jobs.   The Enterprise Network for Young Australians (ENYA), has briefed federal politicians on policy options aimed at training and inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs.   “Everyone in the government understands that Australia needs to focus on creating jobs and sustainable growth, especially now the mining sector is in decline,” ENYA chief executive Jeremy Liddle told StartupSmart.   “We were talking about creating jobs and teaching people to be job creators not job seekers by building companies.”   The headline proposal was a $20 million fund to provide seed loans to entrepreneurs under 40 years of age.   “In five years, the fund could create 5000 jobs and generate over $30 million in tax revenue,” says Liddle.   The four-year fund would be managed by ENYA, who would loan $20,000 to 250 early-stage start-ups a year. ENYA also requested a further half million to manage the administration of the fund.   The scheme is modelled on a successful Canadian program ran by the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. According to Liddle, the model has a relatively low drop-out rate (6.2%) and most loans are repaid, so the fund would be self-sustaining.   “We’d hope through the education, mentoring and funds we loan them, we could skill them up to the point where when they’re ready, they can go and raise money for their Series A round,” says Liddle.   Liddle outlined other initiatives that ENYA believes would boost start-ups, job creation and tax revenue, including changes to unemployment welfare so start-up operators could access the payments, and government-guaranteed bank loans for start-ups.   “If the government guaranteed bank loans for start-ups, we’d see thousands of new businesses launching,” says Liddle.   He says the ideas received a positive response from their audience, which including Liberal deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop and representatives from the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.   “The next step is continuing to work closely with [Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer] Bernie Ripoll’s office as he’s been championing our ideas and he’s going to help see what is available by funding requests,” says Liddle.   Liddle will lead a team of 22 young entrepreneurs to Russia next week, as part of the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Australia.   “We’re off to Russia next week but then we have a 12-month runway to the next G20 summit in Australia, so we’ll be campaigning nationally for these ideas,” says Liddle.

Australia’s broadband future: The Labor and Coalition plans compared

4:48AM | Wednesday, 10 April

Above: Shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull.   After months of general barbs aimed at the National Broadband Network, the federal Coalition has finally unveiled its alternative broadband vision for Australia.   Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull (pictured above) said that the Coalition would provide “very fast broadband, sooner, cheaper” to the Australian public.   Turnbull said that the plan – which would provide 25 megabits per second, much slower than Labor’s alternative – was “consistent with the best practice around the world”.   However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the Coalition plan “fails miserably” and only the NBN would provide the high-speed broadband Australian business and consumers need.   Despite the fact many Australian small businesses are lagging behind with their own web presence, economists have consistently pointed to the benefits of fast broadband.   Figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that consumers aren’t hanging around – there were 12.2 million internet subscribers in Australia at the end of December 2012, a 5% annual increase. There were a further mobile six million wireless broadband connections.   So how do the two plans stack up? StartupSmart explains all.   Labor’s plan What is it?   The National Broadband Network   How will it work?   Expected to roll out over the next 10 years, the NBN aims to hook up more than 3.5 million homes and businesses by the end of 2015, with the eventual goal of 100% coverage of high-speed broadband.   For 93% of Australians, the current copper network is to be completely replaced with optical fibre all the way from the exchange to the premises, a configuration called fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).   The next 4% get fixed wireless connections, and the most remote 3% get satellite links. All this is being run by NBN Co, a wholly government-owned company, which will be sold after completion.   Last month, NBN Co admitted it was running three months behind schedule.   How fast will it be?   Up to 100 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload.   What will it cost?   The government says $44 billion. The Coalition says more than $90 billion. Conroy says the Coalition figure is a “false claim”.   What they say about it   Nick Ross, ABC Technology: “Based on all the existing evidence, the Coalition's claims regarding the technology simply don't stand up to scrutiny. If for some reason it turns out they do, then they need to explain why just about every expert on the matter has got it so wrong.”   Conroy: "The only way NBN Co won't make a return is if the Coalition is elected."   Turnbull: “The NBN will continue to roll out but we will do so in a cost-effective manner, in particular in built-up areas."     The Coalition’s plan What is it?   Essentially, it is the same as the National Broadband Network, with a few significant tweaks.   How will it work?   The NBN rollout will essentially continue, but for most Australians, it will mean fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) – fibre from the exchange to kerbside cabinets no more than about 800 metres from customer premises, and using the existing copper for the last segment. Telstra’s copper network will be purchased for this purpose.   The Coalition policy document states: "Suburbs, regions, towns and business districts with the poorest services and greatest need for upgrades will receive first priority."   How fast will it be?   Slower than the NBN. There will be a download data rate of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by late 2016 and between 50 and 100 megabits per second by 2019.   What will it cost?   The Coalition has the plan costed at $29 billion including $20 billion of capital expenditure.   What they say about it   Stilgherrian, technology writer: “The Coalition's core point is that while FTTP can certainly deliver faster broadband, and is the technology for the long-term, they can deliver a clear improvement for more Australians sooner and cheaper by being more flexible.”   Turnbull: "[25 megabits per second] will enable anybody in residential situations to do everything they want to do or need to do in terms of applications and services, and is six times faster than the average speed people are getting right now.”   Conroy: "If you understand broadband, if you understand that it is being used for more applications that require more bandwidth every single day, then you know that Malcolm Turnbull's network is a fail.   "Malcolm Turnbull is going to build a one-lane Sydney Harbour Bridge because he says he can do it cheaper and faster."

Live blog: Labor spill - Crean brings on leadership challenge, ballot at 4:30

3:05AM | Thursday, 21 March

Labor is in turmoil today after senior frontbencher Simon Crean called for a leadership spill, and announced he’d run for deputy. Refresh for rolling updates …   4.46pm: Julia Gillard remains PM. No one challenged her. ALP spokesman Chris Hayes MP has emerged from the caucus meeting to formally announce that there was only one nomination each for the role of prime minister and deputy prime minister; Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan respectively, “Both were duly elected unopposed and unanimously by the parliamentary caucus,” Hayes said. ”It puts beyond doubt the issue of leadership in the parliamentary Labor party.”   4.21pm: Kevin Rudd has just faced the media to announce he will not stand in the leadership ballot. Flanked by supportive colleagues in the corridor of Parliament House, Rudd said he had previously pledged he would only stand if the overwhelming majority of the party requested his return and the top position was vacant, circumstances, he said, which had not been met.   Rudd said he would adhere absolutely to his commitment; “I take my word seriously”. He called on the party to unite to ensure Tony Abbott did not walk into the Lodge.   4.16pm: Labor MPs are expected to start filing into the leadership spill any minute. Meanwhile, spare a thought for the people affected by the forced adoption of children in the 20th century. They received a heartfelt and long-awaited apology from Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott this morning, but that’s been eclipsed by the #spill.   3.40pm: We still don’t even know if Rudd will nominate for leader at the spill at 4.30pm. This update from ABC reporter Latika Bourke: SkyNews reckons the following Labor MPs have been spied in Rudd’s office: Ed Husic, Tony Zappia, Richard Marles, Stephen Jones. Confusion reigns in Parliament House. Normally MPs would be getting ready to head to the airport and leave Canberra as the sitting week wraps up. Not this time. They’re frantically phoning around and changing their flights.   3.25pm: Sportsbet has Rudd the frontrunner at $1.30 with Gillard at $3.00. But she’s fighting back — she was at $6.00 half an hour ago. And she just now dropped to $2.80.   And she’s got this vote sewn up — outspoken Labor MP Steve Gibbons tweets this (Gillard’s winning the race on Twitter FYI): 3.11: Treasurer Wayne Swan weighs in. He is highly likely to go down with Gillard should she lose today's ballot.   2.56pm: Bernard Keane writes: Question Time has come and gone, with an attempt by the opposition to suspend standing orders to move a motion of no confidence failing. The motion was supported by independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie but failed to achieve the necessary absolute majority of the House.   A motion of no confidence — Tony Abbott’s first — may not have been particularly interesting given Gillard remains Prime Minister and thus her agreements with Oakeshott and Windsor remain in place. Wilkie has indicated he will only vote no confidence in the case of a major scandal. The Prime Minister’s speech in response to Tony Abbott’s motion to suspend remarks contain little of her usual back-against-the-wall fire, but relied on outlining her achievements and warning that she had more left to do.   Meantime the counting game is on in earnest, with attention focusing on how many numbers Simon Crean can bring over to the Rudd camp, estimated to be no more than 35-40 MPs. The problem for Gillard is that a victory will do nothing to address Simon Crean’s defection or the persistence of a core of Rudd supporters of around a third of the caucus.   2.42pm: Julia Gillard has shut down question time after Abbott’s move to have a no-confidence motion in her failed.   2.25pm: Tony Abbott, in question time, tells Gillard: “I say to the current Prime Minister, for your party’s good you should go. For your country’s good, you should go.” Gillard is now firing back at Abbott. Note that Kevin Rudd is in the chamber, as is Simon Crean; but Crean has gone to the backbench after precipitating today’s dramatic events.   Remember the last time this happened, when Rudd and Gillard faced off in February 2012? Key Rudd supporters were Anthony Albanese, Martin Ferguson, Chris Bowen and Kim Carr. Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy and Simon Crean all backed Gillard. Crean has now shifted — and who else?   2.17pm: We’re in question time. Tony Abbott has moved a no-confidence motion in the PM, and is listing what he says is a litany of Labor failures. Meanwhile, Labor MPs have started to tweet how they’ll vote. Here’s ACT Senator Kate Lundy: 2.04pm: News Limited journalist Phillip Hudson tweets: 2.01pm: Prime Minister Julia Gillard tells question time there will be a ballot for the leadership at 4.30pm today.   1.45pm: Labor frontbencher and former leader Simon Crean has pulled the trigger on the Labor leadership crisis, calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to spill all leadership positions and backing Kevin Rudd with himself as deputy leader.   Crean’s intervention comes as the climax for an extended leadership dilemma for Labor, with Rudd’s camp unable to muster the numbers to defeat Gillard despite a dreadful start to the year in the polls.   However, there are important process issues to be addressed. Crean has indicated he doesn’t expect the Prime Minister to accept his plea to spill leadership positions, in which case it will be up to her opponents to muster the 35 votes to successfully call a spill in caucus via the caucus chairman before MPs leave tonight (prospects of Parliament sitting tomorrow have evaporated with the withdrawal of the media reform bills).   Crean, who has been a strong supporter of the Prime Minister, said he wanted a circuitbreaker for the continuing destabilisation and that Labor’s problems would not be solved by simply swapping leaders. Labor needed to demonstrate it believed in something, he said.   The move by the former leader (and persistent critic of Rudd) breaks the impasse Labor found itself in with the Rudd camp unable to muster anywhere near sufficient numbers to defeat Gillard and Rudd himself repeatedly, in private and in public, saying he would not challenge under any circumstances.   With a leadership spill initiated by Crean, Rudd now has the chance to stand; indeed, there is no way Rudd can avoid standing.   Crean also portrayed himself as a deputy capable of ensuring Rudd, whose wretched management style was one of the key reasons for his downfall in June 2010, would be a more inclusive leader if he takes over again as prime minister.   That has been a persistent problem for Rudd backers, with the memory of Rudd’s behaviour as leader still strong in many backbench minds, as well as being a reason why a number of cabinet ministers indicated either publicly or privately they could not work with him again.   Crean also ruled out seeking the treasurership, which has long been rumoured to be promised to the New South Wales Right’s Chris Bowen, who backed Rudd last February and is his highest-profile ministerial backer.   There are disputed media reports that the NSW Right will back Rudd, which combined with Crean’s support would make Rudd very difficult to stop in a leadership contest. Crean has said he wishes to retain his ministerial position pending the outcome of the current contest.   This story originally appeared on

The future looks opaque, even for News

3:08AM | Thursday, 14 March

I attended a business lunch yesterday where Kim Williams, the head of News Limited in Australia, was the keynote speaker.

THE NEWS WRAP: News Ltd calls proposed media reforms a “sad day for democracy”

3:28AM | Friday, 15 March

Media companies have given a mixed response to new government proposals to overhaul the sector, with News Ltd by far the most critical of the move to shake up industry regulation.

THE NEWS WRAP: Conroy looks to scale back media reforms

3:18PM | Monday, 11 March

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is looking to scale back proposed media reforms in the wake of concerns about a possible merger between Nine Entertainment and Southern Cross Broadcasting.

THE NEWS WRAP: Woolworths plays down its marketshare

3:35AM | Friday, 15 March

Senior Woolworths executives are in Canberra claiming the supermarket giant is not as powerful as some people believe, as the federal government drafts an enforceable industry code of conduct.

Twitter inches closer to Sydney: Why the tech giant is opening an Australian office

3:17AM | Monday, 11 March

More signs are appearing that social network Twitter will open an office in Australia, with deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop confirming the move after a visit to the company's headquarters.

THE NEWS WRAP: Pressure on for Swan to make cuts as company tax revenues fall

9:17PM | Monday, 24 September

A “hefty fall” in company tax collections has contributed to the Federal Government’s $43.7 billion deficit for the 2011-12 financial year, according to Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Government to consider ways of cutting global roaming changes

8:00AM | Thursday, 23 August

The Federal Government will consider ways of cutting global roaming charges, which would potentially benefit Australian start-ups doing business overseas, amid soaring complaints over large bills.

Coalition slams NBN's six-month delay, $1.4 billion cost blowout

8:03AM | Thursday, 9 August

The Federal Government's control over the National Broadband Network has been questioned after it released an update for its corporate report yesterday, confirming the project will be delayed by six months and cost an extra $1.4 billion.

THE NEWS WRAP: News Corp separation pains bring $1.46 billion loss

8:19PM | Wednesday, 8 August

News Corporation has posted a massive $1.46 billion loss in the fourth quarter, writing down the value of its global publishing empire, including its Australian newspapers.

THE NEWS WRAP: Budget surplus under threat amid declining tax base

3:17PM | Wednesday, 28 March

Treasurer Wayne Swan says the Federal Government will need to cut and cancel whole spending programs to return the budget to surplus next financial year, as it fights a structural decline in the tax base that will keep revenue at depressed levels for years.

Government looks to spark home-based business surge with National Telework Week

3:01AM | Monday, 11 March

The Federal Government will stage National Telework Week in November in a bid to highlight the benefits of working from home, on the back of the National Broadband Network rollout.

Government road show aims to boost regional firms’ web presence

6:55AM | Tuesday, 14 June

The Federal Government has teamed up with the likes of PayPal, eBay and Optus to launch Driving Business Online, a nationwide road show designed to help small businesses achieve success online – and sell them on the benefits of the NBN.

eBay sellers highlight supply problems

3:08AM | Monday, 21 March

The latest eBay Online Business Index reveals almost 80% of Australia’s largest eBay sellers have experienced difficulties with manufacturers and suppliers.

Federal Government to host online retail forum

2:09PM | Wednesday, 2 February

Small retailers are being invited to attend a Federal Government online retail forum later this month, designed to encourage Australian retailers to explore online business options.