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Friday, 20 August 2010 21:53

Election 2010: Govt deserves to be returned


Opinion: After an election campaign in which starkly different plans for Australia's broadband future have provided a clear choice between Gillard Labor and the Coalition, on balance, the tech sector's best interests are served if the Government is returned.

This is not simply a case of the Government's National Broadband Network trumping the Coalition's cut-down version of infrastructure to meet Australia's future digital needs. Although that it certainly something voters from the technology sector will consider.

Rather, it is the difference between a Government that has made technology a central component of the nation's economic future and an Opposition that treats it like an after-thought.

The Government's $43 billion National Broadband Network has been a polarising policy. And the Coalition successfully exploited voter fears about the NBN's price-tag and the Government's ability to manage the project on time and on budget.

But closer scrutiny of the Rudd-Gillard Government's performance shows that the Communications Portfolio has been among its best performers. And that both the department's policy work and the NBN Company's work on the ground has proceeded without hiccough.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has had a testy relationship with many IT workers and users, courtesy of Government's controversial internet filter proposal. But Senator Conroy is both well-liked and well-respected among industry leaders. As Communication's Minister, he has taken every chance to engage with technology leaders and has a genuine interest and understanding in the technology.

The Gillard campaign has done enough to sell its enthusiasm for the National Broadband Network, with Ministers lining up to press its advantages to their portfolio responsibilities - from health to small business to education.

More than that, the NBN and related policies like eHealth have been promoted directly to the public by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She has a direct connection to the policy, and as the former Education Minister, has a deep understanding of its benefits.

And she has played a hands-on role in its formation. With Stephen Conroy, Ms Gillard was on the interview panel that ultimately appointed NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley to the job, in what has turned out to be an excellent choice.

This is where the choice between the Government and the Opposition becomes clearer for voters from the technology sector.

The Coalition quite rightly identified the $43 billion cost of the NBN as a legitimate issue for voters. But in announcing its alternative policy, the Opposition has done nothing to assure the sector that it either understands or is particularly engaged with its issues.

Shadow communications spokesman Tony Smith is an unknown to the industry, and has had trouble getting his message across. He did not spend nearly enough time getting around the various interest groups and comes across as a distant figure.

When Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was a no-show at the $6 billion Coalition broadband announcement, it sent a message. A leader who doesn't want to get a piece of a $6 billion ribbon-cutting either isn't interested or doesn't understand. And for Mr Abbott it was both.

But then with Mr Smith and the Finance Shadow Andrew Robb struggled to explain the policy - announced just two weeks before the poll - and it was difficult not to conclude the policy was an after-thought.

This was not an infrastructure for the future, it was a misunderstood grab at some easy savings.

And when the policy failed to address the very real and well understood competition problems the internet industry has faced for a decade, it became clear the Coalition policy was no solution at all.

There are many issues which sway the votes of the individual. But the technology sector's best interests are served with the return of a Gillard Labor Government.


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