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Wednesday, 04 August 2010 23:28

Election 2010: Where's the tech sector?


We are at the half way point in the federal election campaign and the technology sector has barely rated a mention. And I have a theory about that.

Because in the second half of the campaign we will be hearing a lot more about it. And not before time.

For the Government, the National Broadband Network will be given greater prominence the nearer we get to election day.

The leader's debate was disappointing, with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioning the NBN just a couple of times, although that was twice more often than Tony Abbott.

If the leader of the Opposition climbs off his high horse and agrees to a debate on the economy, we will hear a lot more about infrastructure, and a lot more about broadband. Because the NBN is at the heart of much future economic development.

The Prime Minister unveiled the NBN Co's fibre map of Australia, re-announcing government's plan to connect the optical fibre to 93 per cent of premises instead of the 90 per cent originally promised.

Tony Abbott and shadow communications spokesman Tony Smith have said nothing of their plan. Nothing about how it will be funded, nothing about what technology it will use, nothing about when it will be rolled out. Nothing.

The NBN is a major differentiator between the parties. It is an issue that can change votes. It also carries risk for both sides of politics.

For Government, it feeds the narrative about vision, about building infrastructure to allow Australia to compete in new global markets in future. But it also leaves them open to attacks about implementation, based on the "no business case" argument (George Brandis used it tonight on Lateline.)

The Coalition says they will produce a smarter plan that will cost taxpayers less. But they are open to attacks about lack of vision and about the 11 years of failed communications policy they presided over.

The NBN will be debated at the National Press Club next Tuesday, by Stephen Conroy, Tony Smith and Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam.

From that point on, the broadband policies will be front and centre for the rest of the campaign.

It is already creeping into the mainstream. Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese cited the NBN as the example of Government investment in critical infrastructure against an opposition that wants to rip it up on ABC's Lateline this evening.

Similarly, on Radio National tonight in his first interview since under-going surgery a week ago, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he couldn't sit idly by while Tony Abbott took apart the economy - using the scrapping of the NBN as an example.

The technology industry gets short shrift generally from campaign politics. The technology sector just doesn't take up enough space in the Australian psyche to warrant more attention - especially in a campaign that has been as shallow as this one.

But as the campaign gets nearer polling day, and as the debate gets more focused on the economy, broadband and new media will increasingly be a top five agenda item.

And, of course, we are still waiting for the Coalition to announce its broadband policy. It's a bit hard to have a debate when only one side has brought anything to the table.

My guess is that the Coalition is furiously writing and re-writing its broadband plans. Because there is only downside for them in simply ripping up a program that people support.


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