Helen Coonan

Helen Lloyd Coonan (born 29 October 1947) is a former Australian politician who served as a Senator for New South Wales from 1996 to 2011, representing the Liberal Party. She was a minister in the Howard Government, serving as Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer from 2001 to 2004 and then as Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts from 2004 to 2007.

Helen Coonan
Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
In office
18 July 2004  3 December 2007
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byDaryl Williams
Succeeded byStephen Conroy
Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer
In office
26 November 2001  18 July 2004
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byRod Kemp
Succeeded byMal Brough
Senator for New South Wales
In office
1 July 1996  22 August 2011
Succeeded byArthur Sinodinos
Personal details
Helen Lloyd Coonan

(1947-10-29) 29 October 1947
Mangoplah, New South Wales
Political partyLiberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s)Andrew Rogers[1]

Early life

Coonan was born in Mangoplah, New South Wales, attended the Mount Erin convent Catholic boarding school in Wagga Wagga.[2] She later attended the University of Sydney, where she gained a law degree. She was a barrister and solicitor before entering politics. She was chair of the board of governors of the Law Foundation of New South Wales (1991–92).

Howard Government (1996–2007)

In 1996, Coonan was elected to the federal Senate as a Liberal senator for New South Wales. She was re-elected in 2001 and appointed Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (2001–04), making her the first woman to hold an Australian Treasury portfolio since Federation.[3]

As Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Coonan appointed Mr David R Vos AM as the first Inspector-General of Taxation during August 2003; following from the passage of the Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002 and providing an adviser to government in the interests of taxpayers.[4]

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Coonan was appointed Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, with a seat in the Cabinet, in July 2004. Her portfolio was responsible for overseeing the Australian broadcasting and telecommunications industries as well as the ICT sector and Australia Post. Coonan was also the senior minister responsible for the Arts. She became Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate in January 2006, and was the first female in the Coalition Leadership team[5] remaining in that role until the coalition was defeated at the polls on 24 November 2007.

Digital television

In July 2004, Australia was in a transitional phase: digital television was broadcast in parallel to the old analog television signals. The stated plan was full handover to digital by 2008 and shutdown of all analog television broadcast.

In September 2005, Coonan announced a review of the digital television situation. It was noted that the government had spent 1 billion dollars supporting the change from analog TV to digital TV. The current plan to switch off analog TV by 2008 in metropolitan areas and by 2011 in regional markets was unlikely to be workable because takeup of digital receivers had been poor.[6][7]

The minister supervised the creation of "Digital Australia", a new federally funded government body for coordinating the transition to digital television.[8] Andrew Townend (former COO of Digital UK) was appointed executive director in 2007.[9]

Digital Radio

In October 2005, Coonan released a plan for a staged rollout of Digital Audio Broadcasting using the "Eureka 147" technology, starting in metropolitan areas. There was no plan to phase out analog radio, but a 6-year moratorium on new BSB licenses was announced.[10][11]

Media Ownership

Coonan was instrumental in promoting legislative changes to the cross-media and foreign ownership laws in the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006. The changes relaxed restrictions against cross-media ownership or control by a single company.

Internet Filtering

As far back as December 2004, Senator Coonan was under pressure from the religious conservative lobby, in particular Senator Harradine.[12]

In 1999 the government introduced measures to counter the growing problem of offensive material on the Net when it introduced a comprehensive regulatory scheme which banned X-rated and restricted classification, or RC, material. As part of the program, the government also established NetAlert—which Senator Harradine is well aware of—to help children and families use and enjoy the Internet in a safe and responsible way.

Her answer demonstrated that mandatory filtering was under consideration.

Senator Harradine asked about mandatory filtering systems. Under the industry code of practice introduced by the government, all Australian Internet service providers are required to provide content filters for their customers at cost price or below. These tools allow parents to actively control the access their children have to the Internet from the family computer and to have some degree of confidence about the safety of their children online.

Coonan also announced in August 2007 a $189 million package for the NetAlert programme. NetAlert is an ISP level Internet content filtering system designed to filter the Internet for 'safe' use in Australia. It represented a change from her 2006 policy to allow the ISP to remain a neutral carrier and encourage parents to install filters on their home PC, commenting at the time that "PC-based filtering remains the most effective way of protecting children from offensive Internet content, as well as other threats that are not addressed by Labor's ISP-filtering proposals."[13] Tom Wood, a 16-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne, took only 30 minutes to find a way to bypass the expensive filtering system. An additional filter was made available shortly after which Tom cracked within 40 minutes.[14][15]

Opposition (2007–11)

Following the Liberal/National Coalition's defeat at the 2007 federal election and Brendan Nelson's election as Leader of the Liberal Party, Coonan was replaced as Deputy Leader of Coalition in the Senate by Senator Eric Abetz. She became the Shadow Minister for Human Services, shadowing the Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig. When Malcolm Turnbull defeated Brendan Nelson in a leadership ballot in September 2008, Coonan was appointed Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate and was elevated to the prestigious position of Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. She was the first woman to shadow the portfolio. Following Deputy Leader Julie Bishop's resignation from the Shadow Treasury portfolio in February 2009, Coonan was moved into Finance, Competition Policy and Deregulation, which had been vacated by Joe Hockey, who picked up the Shadow Treasury role. With the increased responsibility of Finance, Coonan relinquished her position of Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate to Opposition Whip, Senator Stephen Parry.

On 18 August 2011, Coonan informed the Senate in a speech that she would resign on 22 August.[16]

Post-parliamentary career

Coonan appointed as a non-executive director of gaming company Crown Limited in 2011.[17] She is also a member of the advisory council of investment bank J.P. Morgan & Co., a trustee of the Sydney Opera House Trust, Chair of the Conservation Council of the Opera House Trust, Co-Chair of GRACosway and a non-executive director of Obesity Australia Limited.[18] On 1 November 2018 she commenced her role as chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA),[19] while in July 2019 she took over as chair of the Minerals Council of Australia.[20]

Coonan is a regular presenter on The Cabinet on Sky News Australia.[21]


  1. Mark Riley, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December 2002, PM defends Coonan's getaway
  2. The Age, 14 August 2005, Call me Coonan the agrarian...
  3. http://www.companydirectors.com.au/About/Speakers/C/Senator+Helen+Coonan.htm
  4. "Background information on Inspector-General of Taxation". Commonwealth Government of Australia. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007.
  5. Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Review to drive digital take-up" (Press release). 25 September 2005. Archived from the original on 9 September 2007.
  7. "Slow response may delay digital TV switch off". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax. 27 May 2005.
  8. "Coonan flags digital plans". The Australian. News Ltd. 23 November 2006.
  9. "Australian government looks OS for digital solution". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  10. "Framework for the Introduction of Digital Radio" (Press release). 14 October 2005. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007.
  11. "The Digital Difference". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 October 2005.
  12. "QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: Communications: Child Pornography". Senate Hansard: 68. 1 December 2004. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011.
  13. "Labor very late to the Internet filtering debate" (Press release). 21 March 2006. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007.
  14. Nick Higginbottom and Ben Packham (25 August 2007). "Student cracks $84m porn filter". Daily Telegraph.
  15. Tom Wood (October 2007). "The Wood Verdict". Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  16. Kirk, Alexandra: Helen Coonan retires from Senate, 1233 ABC Newcastle, 18 August 2011.
  17. ABC News (2011). Coonan offered position on Crown board. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  18. Macnamara, Lisa, "Hungry Coonan ready for her third act", The Australian, 28 April 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  19. Courtenay, Adam
  20. Gray, Darren (28 July 2019). "New Minerals Council chair calls for 'laser-like focus' on safety". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  21. Perry, Kevin (18 August 2014). "Sky News goes inside The Cabinet tonight on @Foxtel @SkyNewsAust". Nelbie. Archived from the original on 18 June 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
Political offices
Ministry created Minister for Revenue
Succeeded by
Mal Brough
Preceded by
Rod Kemp
Assistant Treasurer
Preceded by
Daryl Williams
Minister for Communications,
Information Technology and the Arts

Succeeded by
Stephen Conroy
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