Coonan sworn in as new Communications Minister

Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, has sworn in the newest members of the Howard Ministry, including Helen Coonan as Australia’s third Communications Minister in less than a year.

“I Congratulate ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the new members of the Executive Council on formal assumption of their new appointments.

“Each one of them is very important in its own role whether, as members of the Cabvarchar(15), Ministry or Executive Council.”

Despite the swearing in, the Prime Minister last week signalled further uncertainty for the radio industry, saying this Ministry will not necessarily remain as is, if the Coalition wins the coming election.

The Federal Opposition has welcomed the early departure of Daryl Williams as Communications Minister, saying Helen Coonan has the opportunity for some policy development to kick start a portfolio which he allowed to languish.

Shadow Minister, Lindsay Tanner, says he has even prepared a ‘can do’ list “after the singularly unimpressive performance of Williams”.

“Senator Coonan can tell us the Government’s plans for digital radio; how she is going to stop the Government attacking the ABC; and whether she supports Labor’s Better ABC Board Appointments’ policy.

“Labor looks forward to Senator Coonan providing some much needed policy direction. This is the Howard Government’s third Communications Minister in less than 12 months. John Howard has lost control of the portfolio.”

The Australian Democrats say the new Minister should reconsider the merits of her predecessor’s plan to merge the ABA and the Australian Communications Authority into a ‘super’ regulator.

Communications spokesperson, John Cherry, says the role of the ACA and the ABA were chalk and cheese, and the specialist roles could be lost in a ‘merged entity’.

“The ABA is very much about cultural values and the standards of broadcasting, while the ACA is focused on the technical requirements of Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure. My concern is that the cultural aspect of broadcasting standards will take second place to the enormous task of technology regulation of telecommunications.

“The problems with the ABA stewardship of David Flint show broadcasting content regulation is vitally important to fairness and balance in our media. This is an essential role for a functioning democracy and should not be downgraded through a merger process.

“The Minister should reject the technocrats’ view of broadcasting and accept the Democrats’ view that broadcasting standards should not be downplayed in importance.”

Following a long career in law as a solicitor and barrister in Australia, and as an attorney in New York, 56 year old Senator Coonan was elected as a Liberal Senator for NSW in 1996.

In November 2001, she was promoted to the Ministry, with portfolio responsibility for taxation, including design of taxation laws, business tax reform, administrative matters relating to the ATO and compliance, taxation policy and administration covering superannuation and prudential regulation of financial institutions.

Senator Coonan has been the key driver of the Government’s business tax reforms, appointing the first Inspector General of Taxation to act as an advocate for taxpayers, and is the architect of a national program of law reforms.

In 2003, she was voted the most influential person in financial services.

As a sidelight, Helen Coonan was a regular panelist on the tv show, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in the 1980s, while pursuing a freelance media career as a commentator on news and current affairs’ programs.

In 2002, she defied calls to resign after admitting she had mistakenly listed her personal residence as an investment property and used parliamentary letterhead while making an insurance claim on her multi-million dollar Sydney home.

She has one son and is not up for re-election until 2008.