Home Government Government Tech Policy Has Malcolm Turnbull lost his opportunity for change?
Has Malcolm Turnbull lost his opportunity for change? Featured

I sincerely hope that I am making this call too early, and that things will change for the better, but as the political situation currently stands we have lost another half year with basically nothing happening in the lucky country.

While I concentrate my analyses on the telecoms, the digital economy and smart city markets, I did make a statement when Malcolm Turnbull took the reins – that I absolutely disagreed with his NBN policy but that I at the same time supported him in much of the rhetoric that he was so eloquently presenting on many of the other issues that we, as a country, are facing.

But now, six months later, I have to conclude that he has not been able to transform any of that rhetoric into reality. Fortunately the destructively high level of negativism from Tony Abbott has gone, but not much has replaced it. And, while I don’t think that the names ‘Tony Turnbull’ or ‘Malcolm Abbott’ that were coined by one observer are yet appropriate, policy-wise we have not been able to make any progress.

It was very clear that Malcolm Turnbull had a massive battle ahead of him against the ultra-conservative faction in his Cabinet, but it is a real disappointment that he has been rather a lame duck in this battle.

The sad story with those ultra-conservatives is that while they are able to stop progress they are unable to come up with any plans that will move us ahead as a nation. True, the PM is using future scenarios time and time again, so he is certainly trying; but he is not getting any support from his colleagues to turn these into forward-looking policies. He seems to lack the personal power to develop policies that would be more in line with his more liberal views of the world.

It is indeed a sad situation that while the majority of the people in Australia are in favour of progress, the minority group of ultra-conservatives are able to stop it. Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) are the weapons they will use time and time again, dangerously playing on some of the darker sentiments in society.

One of the most dangerous elements for our industry in this sort of scaremongering is a loss of democracy and personal freedom through citizen and press surveillance. While the conservatives often stand for ‘small government’ in relation to secret service, surveillance and militarisation, they are the biggest advocates of maximum government intrusion. Telecommunications in all its aspects is then used to further their interventionist policies.

Talking about militarisation, the military defence paper was one of the few policies that breezed through cabinet, very much in line with the above.

As indicated, the ‘dark force’ is against progress, being instead in favour of the status quo. They see conflict all around them and want strong leaders and authoritarian processes. They are certainly not advocates of social progress. We only have to look at the Trumpfication of America so see how damaging this can get.

With more progressive politics currently being obstructed by ultra-conservatives, no action is taking place. For example, regarding the future of the NBN, which is looking bleaker by the day, several observers have now asked questions about investment in technologies that will soon become obsolete, and there is no plan to move the NBN beyond that situation. There are only a few diehards in the industry left who are still trumpeting the virtues of the second rate Multi Technology Mix (MtM); one have to ask what there motives are, political or technical?

A future privatisation will therefore most certainly be a financial disaster, a disaster clearly linked to the meshing of technologies, a FttH would most certainly have fetched a much higher price than the $27 billion estimated by PwC for a possible sale price of the MtM version of the network..

(By the way, despite a few reminders, I never got my follow-up meeting with the PM, to which he invited me after he contacted me to discuss the NBN.)

This lack of progress also applies to developments in smart energy. Despite a clear positive stand on these issues the PM has not been able to move away from the damaging policies put in place by his predecessor. In the meantime progress will happen anyway, and the heavily regulated energy industry, now totally in limbo, is facing a perfect storm – little innovation, customers disconnected from the grid, less revenue for the industry.

So who is going to pay for the grid? Will the government further increase energy prices – already among the highest in the world? That would guarantee a voters’ revolt and a boost for solar and battery installations, leading to more grid defections and therefore lower revenues for the grid operators.

For those involved in industries that are spearheading the future these ultra-conservative policies are very damaging. The world doesn’t stop; nor does it revolve around Australia. Progress will happen whether certain politicians like it or not, but without supportive policies in place it will be much harder for Australia to remain relevant and competitive in a globalised world. It will be difficult for us to create the new jobs that innovation generates, and we will miss out on the productivity and efficiencies that the digital economy has to offer – not just to businesses but also to healthcare, education and the government.

The challenges ahead of us are extremely complex and can’t be resolved with one-liners and shirt-fronting. We need far more sophisticated leadership. We had hoped that Malcolm Turnbull would deliver on that but so far he has not been able to do so.

The world is not approaching the apocalypse that some of the conservatives are predicting – we have a bright and promising future ahead of us. But we need the right political leaders to focus on these issues and provide the policies so that the rest of the country can get on with the job of making it happen.

For the moment at least Malcolm Turnbull remains our best hope, but his star is fading quickly.

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