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Monday, 09 August 2010 02:56

Abbott launch snubs tech sector entirely


The Australian tech sector awoke this morning bathed in the warmth of Coalition love after leader Tony Abbott unveiled ambitious communications and IT programs to underpin economic strength, productivity growth and wealth creation for generations to come'¦ No wait, hang on. That's not right.

Oh yeah, now I remember. Tony Abbott, in a 3,300 word speech that marked the Coalition's official campaign launch, said nothing about information technology or communications. Nothing. No plan, no policy. Literally not a word.

There's no fudging it. In the centrepiece Coalition speech of the 2010 campaign, Mr Abbott did not even use the words 'internet,' "technology,' 'broadband' or 'communications' once. It's extraordinary.

In fact, he managed to get through all 3,300 words without ever saying 'network' or - quite incredibly - the word 'infrastructure.'

Seriously, he must have a hell of a speechwriter. Because that would take some skill, creating a speech of that length, detailing short and long-term policies and plans for the nation's future, and still managing to avoid all of those core economic terms.

This is the same bloke who has been hammering Labor for its "reckless" spending on the $43 billion National Broadband Network. Just last week he was warning voters that the NBN project blow-outs could double the cost to taxpayers of the 'network' to $86 billion.

The NBN project would become the nation's biggest and most embarrassing White Elephant and the biggest single contributor to Labor Debt if it were not stopped - which Mr Abbott has already said he will do.

For months Mr Abbott and shadow communications spokesman Tony Smith have been saying Labor can't be trusted to manage a project of the NBN's size. They've just had to point to pink batts, or the Building the Education Revolution as Exhibit A and B.

Yet despite the sky falling in, in his landmark speech on the future of the nation, Mr Abbott strangely did not feel the need to offer voters an alternative vision for broadband infrastructure and the digital economy.

Forget that the ICT sector accounts for up to two-thirds of annual productivity growth in Australia. Forget too that the horizontal ICT sector is the engine room for growth across all industry verticals across the economy, from financial services to manufacturing to retail trading.

Forget also that the technology sector is not some kind of service unit bolted onto the side of the Australian economy. It is intrinsic to mainstream everything: it is the fundamental platform on which our economy runs.

And don't dare to even dream that Mr Abbott might have included some small insight into his plans for the long-needed regulatory reform of the telecommunications sector.

What a disgrace.

And yes, before anyone gets hot under the collar, I know Tony Smith is expected to announce tomorrow the Coalition's communications and IT policy. He will do this either at, or just before, the Press Club debate on the portfolio he will have Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Greens comms spokesman Scott Ludlam.

The Abbott Coalition has been saying for months that it would halt construction of the NBN if it wins government. Offering not even the scantest detail, the Opposition merely says it has a plan for better broadband at less cost to taxpayers - and that the full policy would be announced prior to the election.

Well the election launch just came and went.

Maybe Mr Abbott should be given some slack. Maybe he was just keeping his powder dry in readiness for tomorrow's announcement. Maybe he thought a bigger spotlight would be shined on the Coalition plans for the sector if all the initiatives were announced at the same time.

I just don't buy it. This bloke wants to be Prime Minister. Last night was probably the biggest speech of Mr Abbott's career. Providing a roadmap and timetable for all major policy implementations if he wins government, Mr Abbott then doesn't bother offering a clue about how he will replace the scrapping of the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history.

It is deeply unimpressive. No doubt we will learn tomorrow what the stunning Big New Idea for the ICT sector is from the conservative side of politics.

But Tony Smith is really going to need to pluck something amazing out of his butt - in terms of costed ICT policy - to turn communications and broadband into a positive for the Coalition.

And that has looked anything but likely for at least as long as Mr Abbott has had his leader's picture hanging in the Party room.

Funnily enough, it was left to the junior Coalition partner to make mention of the communications sector at the launch event.

But even that seemed more out of the Nationals embarrassment than anything. Seriously, the Nationals have spent the last year in lock-step with the Liberals in blocking and frustrating regulatory reform and in trying to derail the NBN - both policies that will deliver enormous benefits to regional Australia.

Nationals leader Warren Truss, the aspiring Deputy Prime Minister, surely could not have believed what he was saying in his speech to the launch.

"Effective communications unite all Australians in national and global communities," Mr Truss said. "Better telephone services, internet access and broadcasting infrastructure will ensure regional Australians fully participate in the social and economic benefits of new technology."

"A robust communications network will create better health services, better education, better employment and more business opportunities in regional Australia," he said.

"Labor misled all Australians with its failed national broadband network."


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