opinion For Australia’s technology sector, watching the Federal Election so far has been akin to watching paint dry … on an outback dunny belonging to a rural cottage in Cobar. The day after the Boxing Day test finishes. In the midst of a national beer shortage.
Yup. It has been that boring.
This is an election in which incumbent Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has declared that his party’s technology policy will be “more of the same” and his opponent, Liberal MP Tony Smith, has distinguished himself by refusing to release any policy whatsoever, although we have been continually assured that he is working on one.
It is an election in which the Opposition has barely mentioned the National Broadband Network in more than an off-hand manner — despite the fact that it is a massive policy which is slated to re-shape Australia’s telecommunications sector and cost the public tens of billions of dollars along the way.
It is an election in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s own big broadband announcement amounted to little more than the release of NBN coverage maps containing very little detail — maps which have probably been in existence for six months or more.
It is an election in which the Opposition simply accepted Labor’s decision to take its mandatory filter policy off the agenda until next year, abdicating an amazing and freely given opportunity to continually sting Labor with the controversial policy throughout the election.
It is an election which has so bored the ranks of Australian technology journalists and commentators that we have been reduced to publishing articles about the Opposition’s lack of any technology policy and the lack of any debate on technology issues whatsoever.
This is the election that Australia’s technology sector is faced with.
Against this incredibly apathetic backdrop, permit me now to paint a picture of one of the figures playing a minor role from the sidelines of events.
In the Sydney electorate of Wentworth, a Liberal MP will this weekend host a small forum with limited numbers designed to debate one of Labor’s most controversial policies — the mandatory internet filter. Against the general apathy of his party, this one MP has listened to his electorate’s views on the issue and is determined to raise the issue in public — despite the fact that very few other politicians will.
To support his efforts in the forum, this MP has recruited an old mate who is also one of Australia’s highest-flying technology executives — having formerly led several of the nation’s largest internet service providers.
This MP’s interest in technology also extends past the filter policy.
This is an MP who constantly carries around an Apple iPad in an obsessive attempt to stay up to date with the internet. He used to carry an Amazon Kindle. This is an MP who recently visited the Apple store in Bondi Junction to make sure that a journalist following him around knew exactly what iPad gear he should get for his new tablet.
An MP who is one of the only high-profile Australian politicians to actually use Twitter as the two-way communications medium that it has always been and not just as a broadcast channel. An MP who attends News Ltd breakfasts on the future of media and then blogs about them in a way that demonstrates that he understands the granular details that media proprietors are wrestling with as they consider the future of new media and the internet’s impact on their business.
This is an MP whose fortune was actually made from a technology company — who he had enough foresight to invest $500,000 in one of Australia’s largest ISPs just before the internet revolution hit the mainstream in the mid-1990’s, pulling out the investment at a reported profit of more than $56 million.
An MP who has continued to act as an investor in Australian technology companies and remains connected to the Australian technology investment community.
I’m sure that you all know which Liberal MP I am speaking of here — former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull.
Now there is no doubt that Turnbull is currently out of favour with sections of the Liberal Party — he sunk virtually into obscurity for several months after Tony Abbott took the Liberal leadership off his hands in late 2009, and even announced that he was quitting politics.
But there are swings and roundabouts in politics, and Turnbull remains tremendously popular with many sections of the Australian electorate — even more so than Abbott in many areas. He is prime Liberal material, and everyone knows it. Then too, there is the remarkable fact of the changing voter sentiment in the election itself.
For all that many Australians find his attitudes towards women and religion distasteful, it is obvious that Tony Abbott’s Opposition team is kicking the Gillard camp’s ass three ways from Tuesday at the moment on the campaign trail. Gillard is finding Rudd’s ghost hard to shake and the Opposition has had a more consistent message, leading to a dramatic turnaround in the polls that could see Abbott become Prime Minister and the Coalition take government.
If this should happen, I have but one request to make of Mr Abbott: By all the sweet love of Jesus that everyone knows you hold in your godfearing soul, forgive Malcolm Turnbull just enough to make him Communications Minister.
Prominent conservative blog the Catallaxy Files suggested the exact same thing late yesterday:
Tony Smith has made some solid progress as Communications Minister, but Malcolm Turnbull would be a credible and passionate Communications Minister. I believe that Tony Abbott should recommend to the Governor-General that Malcolm Turnbull be appointed as the Minister for Communications. (let’s do away with the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy which is three levels of tautology). Turnbull is a lover of technology. He is always with the latest piece of technology. He understands communications and technology and his finance background will assist him repair the mistake of the National Broadband Network.
Finally, after two decades of ridiculously out of touch Communications Ministers, Mr Abbott, let someone with real experience, understanding and leadership gravitas take control of Australia’s troubled telecommunications sector and stillborn IT industry. Let Turnbull salve the gaping wounds that the Liberal cancellation of the NBN project will bring, and deliver us from the evil that is the filter policy.
Let him use his real-world knowledge to drag Australia’s startup community out of its obscurity and into a glorious future where the term “Silicon Beach” comes to be known around the world and you can’t walk from Martin Place to Pitt St Mall without bumping into a who’s who of influential technology venture capitalists and startup entrepreneurs.
Mr Abbott, please let us have a Communications Minister who doesn’t warn us against the “spams and scams” coming out of the “internet portal” and about how the Queensland Police has “cracked peer to peer”. A Communications Minister who doesn’t embarass Australia on the world stage.
Someone who gets it.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull