​INSIGHT: Why Australia’s new PM ‘gets IT’

“Each industry segment is trying to second-guess the impacts of the coup and the subsequent ministerial horse-trading that will inevitably play out."

After a politically stormy night in the nation’s capital news feeds are awash with commentary on the rapid change of Prime Minister from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull, with everyone essentially asking the same question’ what does this mean for me?

“Each industry segment is trying to second-guess the impacts of the coup and the subsequent ministerial horse-trading that will inevitably play out,” observes Al Blake, Government Technology Principal Analyst, Ovum.

“While Messrs Abbott and Turnbull still have to make their appointments with the Governor-general, for entirely different reasons, it’s clear that the change to the top job in Australia will have significant consequences for the IT industry.

“Turnbull was a founder of the successful ISP Ozemail and, although he didn’t actually invent the Internet in Australia as some of the more breathless commentators have alleged, the incoming PM is from a background that understands technology and, more importantly, appreciates what it can do to stimulate the economy and improve society.

“He’s on record as regarding ‘digital literacy’ as important as reading and supporting open access to government data and in his role as Minister for Communications, he espoused the benefits of using high-value government datasets to “assist government in making evidence-based policy decisions”.”

Earlier this year, Turnbull created the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) within his then department - drawing extensively from the experience of the Government Digital Service (GDS) within the Cabinet Office in the UK Government - an organisation that has shaken-up UK government online services and whose activities Turnbull greatly admires.

“One of the risks associated with last night’s coup, should Turnbull have failed in his bid, was that DTOs continued existence could have been somewhat precarious, with its fortunes tied to an unsuccessful challenger,” Blake adds.

“That didn’t eventuate and with their previous champion now head of the country it’s hard to see how DTO can go anywhere apart from up, regardless of who takes over the reins at Communications.”

With a number of names still swirling in the mists of the Canberra crystal ball at the time of writing, Blake believes it’s still unclear who will inherit the mantle of overseeing the Communications portfolio - and importantly - the NBN.

“When the incoming liberal government inherited the ‘Labor NBN’, after months of trashing it as a ‘massive white elephant’, it was a political imperative to promote a different approach - resulting the mixed-mode delivery model pushed for the last two years against the advice of many in the ICT industry,” Blake adds.

“Although he was following the party line there was always uncertainty as to how strongly Turnbull personally supported that approach and his elevation to the PM spot may allow for an NBN recalibration.”

Given the political realities, Blake believes it would be “impossible” to go back to the original Labour plan - but the industry may see the proportion technologies slide further towards FTTP which would mean world-call broadband performance for a greater percentage of Australians.

“Having someone with an understanding of technology at the highest position in government cannot be underestimated,” Blake adds.

“Australia now has someone who ‘gets it ‘when it comes to digital delivery of government services and is not going to be prepared to accept delays, excuses and second rate solutions.

“The issue now is for the ICT industry both inside and outside of the public sector, to rise to the challenge and deliver of the promise of a connected, technologically literate and effective Australia.”

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