One thing Australians DID want from Labor following the last election was rapid delivery of fast, affordable broadband throughout Australia.

That’s a matter about which there is solid poitical consensus.

It’s a complex policy area and the Rudd Government inherited a mess from Howard, whose fixation on selling the dominant carrier Telstra, without splitting up its wholesale and retail functions, amounted to shocking mismanagement of this industry sector.

Senator ConroyEnter the ALP under Rudd, with its promise to roll out a national fibre-optic networkin short order. It sounded good, although there were obviously many loose ends. The hope was that a competent Minister would sort them out quickly, once in office, and get on with the roll out.

Speaking personally, I don’t even mind if governments, after coming to power, change some policies – as ong as the reasons for change are explicit and valid and a better aternative is offered instead.

How is Labor’s broadband rollout going – more than a year after the election?

Not well, according to the Opposition. Senator Minchin, who shadows Conroy and questioned him during Senate Estimates on October 20th. Minchin remarked it was “was unlikely the process of rolling out the network could begin until the end of 2009.”

The shambles that Conroy has made of this key Government priority is described in some detail by Michael Sainsbury writing in today’s Australian. Check out Broadband trap snaps shut on Conroy.

I won’t summarize Sainsbury’s arguments here. Suffice it to say his conclusion is that Conroy needs to go back to the drawing board on the rollout policy.

Yet at a time when he needs to focus on that crucially important issue, Conroy must be increasingy distracted by the rising furore over internet censorship.

His defence of that ill-considered policy is itself utterly incoherent.

Read the transcript (PDF) of Conroy under questioning from Senator Ludlum during Senate estimates.  There’s an annotated version HERE.

A strong case can be made that Conroy misled the Senate committee when suggesting his intentions parallel existing internet filtering operations in the UK and Scandinavia. There is a clear difference, which he sought to obscure. It is the obligatory nature of Conroy’s plans.

I suspect the Rudd Government does need to think again about the best way to facilitate fast, universal and affordable internet access throughout this vast continent. It must certainly think again on the censorship issue.

The question that Mr Rudd must be pondering is whether Conroy is the right person to lead that new thinking.

Is Senator Conroy up to the job of Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy?

From where I sit, it doesn’t look like it.