Filter fighter + Liberal young gun: Jamie Briggs


profile Federal Liberal MP Jamie Briggs doesn’t respond like your typical conservative politician when you ask him about his attitudes towards technology.

It’s common for politicians to talk about how the dangers of technology — online pornography, violence in video games, the need to carefully evaluate the impact of new innovations on society and so on, when you ask them what they think of technology issues.

But Briggs takes a different slant. When you ask what his favourite gadget is, like many in positions of power he mentions his BlackBerry. But he quickly follows his statement up by noting that this isn’t by choice — it’s simply the device that parliamentarians are given by default. And then he immediately starts talking about Apple.

The MP says he’s tempted to get an iPad to replace his daily newspaper reads — “the newspaper funcion is very good” — and he would probably even read books on the new Apple tablet. He notes his wife is about to get an iPhone.

You can see Briggs’ understanding of technology wound throughout his political career and the issues he has engaged on.

During his maiden speech in October 2008 (Briggs won the South Australian seat of Mayo formerly held by Alexander Downer in a by-election in mid-2008), the MP mentioned broadband as an important issue in his electorate.

“The internet is the great enabler of our time. It has indeed flattened the world. It is a tool for commerce that will drive economic growth. It is a tool for education that will help our children learn. It is an essential tool in our modern society,” he said.

“I believe that broadband must be reliable and it must be available at a reasonable price. To ensure that outer metropolitan and regional communities like those in Mayo get access to faster speeds into the future, there must be investment in a mixture of technologies.”

The MP has a Twitter account and more than 1,200 followers, and where some MPs target newspapers, he has a regular column on News Ltd blog The Punch.

One of his earliest jobs (before his election he rose to the position of adviser in the office of Prime Minister John Howard) saw him employed by South Australian state treasurer, Liberal MP Rob Lucas, who has been one of the few state politicians to take a strong interest in IT policy, being a constant thorn in the side of the state’s Labor government on IT spending.

But it was really Briggs’ intervention in the mandatory filter debate in mid-2009 which brought him to the attention of the technology community more broadly.

At the time, few Liberal politicians had spoken out in public with their views about the filter, and it would be months before senior party stalwarts like Joe Hockey would publicly express their disapproval of the policy.

Briggs’ article on the drum at the time was widely circulated as an example of debate within the party about how it should handle Labor’s controversial plan.

In an interview conducted before the election was announced, Briggs says that although the Coalition has not yet revealed its policy on the filter and has declined to do so until Communications Minister Stephen Conroy publishes the associated legislation, he hasn’t spoken to anyone within the party who thinks it’s a good idea.

Senior figures like Hockey already oppose the filter, and other MPs like Alex Hawke, Michael Johnson and Simon Birmingham have also flagged their opposition to the policy.

Briggs reiterated his view that the filter was a waste of time — “a piece of political fluffery dressed up as a genuine attempt to make the internet safe”. In general, he says the policy plays to parents’ fears about their kids using the internet. But in general, it was an attempt to add another of protection that wouldn’t add any value at all.

“I have young children that are about to enter the world wide web,” he says. “And of course I’m concerned. I’ll address that by ensuring that when they access the system, they’ll do it in front of us. They won’t do it in their bedroom with the door shut.

Briggs acknowledges that the internet can be a dangerous tool. But it was “mistaken policy” to assume that the Government could take absolutely parental responsibility for it. Parents will mistakenly believe the filter will solve all their problems, he says — “even if the Government system works, which I don’t think it will”.

In general, Briggs says the Liberal Party is probably not dissimilar to the Australian public when it comes to its understanding of technology. “Some know more than others,” he says.

He mentions leaders like Turnbull and Hockey as being fairly IT-savvy — Turnbull in particular has had close exposure to the IT industry through his part-ownership and chairmanship of ISP OzEmail thoughout the late 1990’s.

Briggs says the Westminister system of Government is designed to have politicians who can take expert advice in their fields — although of course certain politicians will fall into certain specialities or into lines of interest.

But he notes governments and legislation will by nature fall behind reality because of the speed of change — with one example being telecommunications policy — “the market is so far ahead of what government policy can keep up with,” says Briggs, citing the development of the Apple iPad as one example.

“Six months months ago we would have had a conceptual idea [about it],” he says of the iPad. ” … Now pretty much everyone in the country [knows about it].”

Governments are also constrained to focusing on the policy issues of the day, he says — because they are time-limited.

Another policy the Opposition has not yet spoken on is its attitude towards a proposal by the Attorney-General’s Department that would require Australia’s ISPs to store data such as records of telephone calls and emails.

Briggs says he’s “vaguely aware” that the idea has been around for a few years, but that the policy sounds like “a red tape nightmare” to implement and doesn’t know what his party’s official response is. But he notes the party has been strong on issues such as freedom of speech.

The MP also keeps up with the NBN debate. He backs the Liberal view that it’s not necessarily the Government’s role to get involved commercially — as Labor is with its National Broadband Network policy, which the Opposition would cancel if elected — in such areas.

In Mayo, he says, there are still substantial problems with broadband, which are slowly starting to be addressed through offerings such as Telstra’s Next G mobile network. But there’s still a ways to go.

In general, Briggs says he’s “obviously” interested in new technology, as he sees it as a field that offers Australia great potential. “I’m not sure we’re doing enough at the moment to enter into that space,” he says. “There are a range of things we can do in future.”

When former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull brought an iPad into the parliament earlier this year he caused a stir — the new device had not yet been seen in the chamber. It was not unlike a similar situation Communications Minister Stephen Conroy narrated last week at an event in Melbourne — Conroy had faced pressure in the Senate after bringing in a laptop to a room which had — up to that point — only seen briefing notes on paper.

But with young gun MPs like Briggs increasingly entering the Liberal party and Federal Parliament in general and bringing technology with them, this may increasingly change. And many in Australia’s technology industry will be watching to see what the younger generation will be able to change about technology policy in general.

Image credit: Liberal Party


  1. Ok, now put up a Labor profile with a politician passionate about the benefits of the NBN perhaps? Liberal’s lack of plan for the future of broadband in Australia is astounding.

    • I agree re: Liberals’ lack of a broadband plan. They got nothing and it is a massive hole in their election strategy. However I’m not sure what publishing a profile of an ALP figure espousing the NBN will do — the aim of this profile was to bring some insight into someone who doesn’t quite fit the ‘conservative’ mold when it comes to technology policy. To be honest I conducted the interview before the election — just got time to put this article together today!

  2. Typical Conservatives – Do nothing, leave it to the Market re: NBN.

    It’s a cop-out & gives the Industry to Telstra, which will do as little to the current strangle-hold as they can.

    For the Liberals to get the smart voters, they need to step up & do more than say “No” all the time.

    Close but no prize Liberals.

    • True — when it comes to technology.

      When it comes to the rest of the electorate though, I have a growing suspicion that the Liberals might make this a VERY close election battle. They appear to be campaigning better than Labor is and definitely have Gillard on the defensive atm.

  3. It’s a good thing there are people like Briggs and Turnbull in the Liberals, but it’s a real shame they’re not running the party. The internet filter was as strongly supported by Costello as it was by Rudd, and to my knowledge Abbott has not voiced any opposition to it.

    And we really do need the NBN. Free markets are wonderful things, but they simply don’t work for infrastructure. Just look at Telstra, or Victoria’s public transport system, or any of our other infrastructure that was privatised during the Howard era. There’s no way you can look at the facts and say anyone is better off with these things privately run.

    • To be honest, I expect the Coalition to vote against the filter when Labor finally puts legislation to the table on the matter — that was the feeling I got from Briggs when I spoke to him — that there was no support within the Liberal Party for the filter and they were just waiting for legislation so they could look seriously at what Labor was proposing.

      I disagree with you about infrastructure though — at least, I don’t think telco infrastructure is exactly analogous to electricity infrastructure or roads. The competition in the mobile sector, and the fact that we have several HFC cable networks and a bunch of competitive DSLAMs around the place signals that it is a more complex problem.

    • The Manly Ferry service is a million times better being run by private operators than the Government.
      Labor has shown that they can’t manage small projects like home insulation and BER. Why will it be any different for a project infinitely more complex and costing tens of billions of dollars more?
      Hundreds of thousands of Australians now have cheap access to ADSL2+ because of private companies like iinet, internode, optus and tpg digging into their own pockets and investing in competitive exchange based infrastructure. Same for 3G voice and data. Competition has brought prices tumbling.
      If Telstra were still the monopoly provider for voice and data (which the NBN will be), does anyone honestly think that customers today would have the ability to download literally hundreds of GBs per month for ~$49? Or make unlimited mobile calls/SMS/Data for ~$100/month?
      Remind me again why this back to the future government run monopoly will be such a good thing for consumers?

  4. I don’t believe ‘thinking about getting an ipad’ or having a wife with an iphone is much of a qualification for pitching the Libs internet policy. As for his revelation that it’s “a tool for commerce that will drive economic growth” , I think I said that when an IT consultant in the 1980s – yes maybe even before Jamie Briggs was born! And as for “Australia is a free and open democracy”- has he tried putting up a poster re free public forum on the filter on a UniSAs campus? It’s an abject lesson in controlling people’s freedom of speech. And quotes like “a piece a political fluffery’ is about as compelling as getting thumped by a wet cotton wool ball. Put him up against the GreensSenator Scott Ludlum and see how he fares.

Comments are closed.