Now it gets interesting: Australia has its first digitally literate Prime Minister


This article is by Craig Thomler, digital specialist and Government 2.0 advocate. Thomler is one of Australia’s foremost experts on eGovernment and Government 2.0 issues. It first appeared on Thomler’s popular blog, eGov AU, and is replicated here with his permission.

analysis Rudd & Gillard could work the Twitters. Abbott understood the need to engage digitally, if not the tech, the value or the full impact (and mistakenly thought one of his Ministers had invented the Internet). Even Howard got onboard the digital express with a few YouTube videos.

However, Australia has never before in its history had a digitally literate Prime Minister of the likes of Malcolm Turnbull.

This could mean nothing, or it could mean enormous change if the Australian Government is told to lift its game on digital engagement and treat technology as an integral part of designing and implementing government business rather than as a service to be called on when needed. Turnbull has already laid down a positioning statement in this area, stating in his inaugural media announcement as PM that:

“We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield.”

We’ll see quite quickly which is true by Turnbull’s approach to several of the key planks of openness and digital transformation.

Key steps would include endorsing and progressing Australia’s membership of the Open Government Partnership, something agreed to by the Gillard government but was placed on the perpetual back burner by Abbott as he focused on closing, rather than opening up, government. I’d also expect to see a rethink of the government’s position on the Office of the Information Commissioner – an agency the Abbott government failed to legislate to remove but has been killing by degrees by cutting funding and refusing to replace Commissioners.

Another sign of change would be an elevation of the role of the Digital Transition Office, making more of its approaches mandatory and providing more teeth to the agency when dealing with big and slow moving Departments more interested in the status quo. This could include shifting the DTO back to the Prime Minister’s department, but with a direct reporting line to Turnbull that minimizes the obfuscation prevalent within that department at senior levels.

Other areas that could use attention include the open data space, which is run on a shoestring by Finance and could greatly magnify its impact with additional resourcing and mandates, and, of course, the NBN – Turnbull’s former responsibility as Communications Minister. A shift back to a FTTH approach, delivered more cost-effectively than the previous Labor model, would provide Australia with the infrastructure it needs for the 21st century and cement Turnbull as a visionary with Australia’s long-term future at heart.

There’s also many things that could be done at a micro-level within agencies to shift the reliance on corporate IT suppliers, 1990s systems and large, virtually undeliverable technology projects – many of which could be led by a revitalised AGIMO in association with the DTO.

Of course Turnbull may have other fish to fry, he has quite a lot to do to get the Liberals back to an electoral-ready position within 12 months, and if not re-elected much of the program above could find itself on the scrap heap of a new government that wants to do things differently.

However I am hopeful that we’ll see some true digital leadership from Turnbull whilst he is Prime Minister and potentially some real shifts in how government is delivered in Australia, to the benefit of all Australians now and in the future.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. It would be okay if we didn’t know his past.
    Internet filter, demolish of the NBN. A digitally literate person wouldn’t have done that, but a self motivated politician would have.
    I don’t think it makes any difference to be honest :(

    • I do know there are people who never physically use email, but they get someone else to do it for them. Those people are digitally illiterate. They can use the TV remote but don’t know what half the buttons are.

      The question is does Turnbull know what his filters and fraudband cost the honest Aussie, and from his comments, I believe he does understand how to solve problems in digital environments. We understand that his way is not the way that will best advantage the nation, but they are in accordance with his political persuasions. Therefore, I’d say that those actions, which do seem intentional, somewhat support an observation that he is digitally literate.

      Note that I see no evidence to preclude previous Prime Ministers from digital literacy. Indeed, the only reason he is digitally literate (according to the author) is that he was just the Communications Minister and accordingly, used the language and thinking (semiotics) of a communications minister when writing his speech.

    • “Digitally literate” means understanding the whole situation, not just picking the solution that gives the top 1% of geeks the fastest internet at the expense of all else.

      • Your comment is irredeemably stupid. I won’t make any conclusions about the person who wrote it.

      • I agree with Scott. I see little commentary on the state of the budget or how much debt we’re in when comparing NBN solutions. I also want super fast internet. But I’d also like to see improved roads, more hospitals in regional areas, and our national debt paid down.

        • “But I’d also like to see improved roads, more hospitals in regional areas, and our national debt paid down.”

          That will only happen if this country starts producing something and selling it. Including, if we embrace and encourage technological change, retaining companies like Atlassian in Australia by changing our primitive laws on company share ownership. All we do at the moment is dig stuff up out of the ground, sell it to China and India at bargain basement prices and then buy it back as costly refined goods or materials.

        • As Renai said in this article, if the NBN was stopped, the funds couldn’t be diverted to other projects and it doesn’t make up a part of the deficit either:

          Regular readers of Delimiter will know that we have been fighting a long-term battle on this issue for several years now. It has been simply incredible that the Coalition has sought to have the NBN funding classified as an expense on the Federal Budget — this, and the claim that the NBN funding could be re-allocated to other projects, has always been demonstratably inaccurate, as the Parliamentary Library pointed out some 12 months ago.

      • In which case Turnbull should be thrown into jail for deliberately sabotaging this country’s most important infrastructure project this century.

  2. Completely wrong.. He is digitally ILLITERATE. ! Otherwise how could he willfully destroy the nbn?

    • He destroyed the NBN because it was politically expedient. He knows full well that FTTH is the best solution, but he chose to ignore that in his own self-interest. IMHO, of course.

      • When does national interest trump political expediency? Most of the time apparently. And when you consider how generous is the political pay packet plus perks. It gets troubling to contemplate who is attracted to the trade and their motivation.

    • Because he is a politician, and their first point of order is always “save thy bacon”.

      Turnbull understands what it means to be in the control room rather than in the passenger seats. At least he could eyeball the captains chair as the (destructive) comms minister and give the captain enough rope in order to take the wheel once the captain hung himself.

      Politics 101

    • Turnbull is not digitally illiterate. His job was to do what the party wanted, and expedite the policies set forth.

      And he’s just arrogant and determined enough to see it done; people might squeal but it could always have been a considerably worse outcome.

      NBNco lost the chance to get it right, post ACCC’s 120+ POI ruling. Coupled to that a portfolio that was to have a massive budget cut, and there’s only so much you can do. I certainly don’t believe Turnbull was wise to buy into the MTM, given the ridiculous amount of lobbying that went into it.

      But here we are. We’ve had much much worse. Coonan springs to mind, in doggedly doing as little as humanly possible.

      That FTTN and Fibre exists at all, is as much due to Turnbull, as anyone else. Abbott would have been happy to cancel the entire thing, outright. He was sure as hell not going to fund something that they spent years decrying as evil expenditure of the worst kind.

      I’m not a fan of his choices, and believe the MTM is a true misstep, but I don’t expect that’s lost on Turnbull either. He was lobbied and boxed into a corner. His master assumed this choice would keep his biggest rival busy.

      We all know how well that’s worked out. :)

    • I take a more charitable view.

      If anyone in the government was going to get a mixed model to work, it would be him. Otherwise they’d allocate it to some third-rate varnish sniffer, like they did the science portfolio (after they unabolished it).

      I don’t think Turnbull as the communications minister, would have been able to secure a better outcome. The funding and the political capital wasn’t there. He was lucky to get into the cabinet, given he was the previous leader, he wouldn’t have enough pull to get a policy change of that magnitude.

      Now he’s holding the reigns, we’ll see his true colours on this. He knows the mixed model is costing us a packet, will be pivot the government into a more forward-looking position on internet infrastructure. God I hope so.

  3. he had to follow the party line with FTTP. He’ll probably have a hard time changing back to FTTH.
    As for cost and time blow outs on NBN – certainly not his fault. This goes back to Labor’s planning and reliance on using Telstra’s documentation on where to run the cable. according to a architect that i know at the nbn he’s had major issues planning rollouts due to Telstra having not documented changes in 20-50 years in some places

    • FTTH is dead*.

      The sooner people get over grieving and move to actually holding whomever replaces Turnbull accountable for the resulting MTM mess, the better. His successor isn’t suddenly going to change the parties policies overnight. Why people hold candles for this, in vain hope, is beyond me.

      I wouldn’t argue the fault lies specifically with Labor, either, though. Don’t think you can point at one party and ignore the rest of the situation.

      More that it was left to politicians to sort out at all. That’s always a recipe for disaster. Couple that with the truly moronic cash grab that saw T1 and T2 occur without forced separation.

      The ACCC was equally happy to shout “I’m helping!” by being successfully lobbied to support the 120+ POI, in what has to be the most anti-competitive ruling (certainly destroying any notion of diverse retailers in the market) to date. And it certainly doesn’t support the notion of infrastructure competition!

      Well played.

      It went down hill from there, triggering a mass collapse of the retail market, as each sought to bulk up to even remain viable, followed by a change in government that was initially disinterested in funding to anywhere near the same level.

      We are here, because of a change in government, an ACCC disconnected from reality and a market that did and does still need to make a buck.

      *until we finally pay the piper

        • It’s always been a MTM even under Labor.
          • Satellite makes sense for remote areas.
          • Fixed Wireless makes sense for low density areas.
          • FTTH makes perfect sense green fields.
          • HFC is a reasonable band-aid to get higher speed sooner…

          It’s only FTTN that makes absolutely no zero (unless you’re Telstra being paid to fix copper, or a politician desperate to be seen to be doing something sooner).

          FTTN is unreliable, much slower, requires payment to Telstra to remediate the copper and remove blockers, expensive to setup and power street cabinets etc. Just cancel the FTTN part already.

          Introduce FTTdp ( to the majority of the proposed FTTN footprint, and expand the other 3 options to cover the rest. Or take the actual Liberal party policy and leave the FTTN upgrade to private companies… like TPG or Opticomm.

          For Turnbull’s new communications minister to achieve this all he has to do is ask NBN to add the following to their considerations and an amended business plan:
          • A clause guaranteeing a minimum speed of 25/4 for EVERYONE in an area rather than 80%, 90% or some arbitrary number
          • the expected cost of remediating the copper to the cost projections / business plan.
          • the cost and time required to upgrade the FTTN to FTTdp starting shortly after FTTN completes versus just installing FTTdp now.

        • True. It does, but that portion won’t grow much, if at all, as the mixed model kicks in.

          It’s that there are true believers who think MTM can be scrapped. Somehow. Tomorrow it will all be fine because surely it’s all just a silly mistake. I don’t see that as a reality. Maybe in 10-15 years when we struggle to come to terms with the enormity of extending FTTN back to FTTH.

          But not tomorrow. And certainly not next week. I don’t believe the change in leaders will lead to a miracle. :)

          • I don’t think they can scrap Fttn, but they sure can (and probably will) use more FttP than was originally planned.

            Don’t forget, Telstra sold the copper to nbn(tm) basically “sight unseen”. That doesn’t bode well for it’s condition (you only sell a car that way if it’s a pile of crap, if it’s in good nick, you’ll provide all the certificates, etc)).

            nbn(tm) are on the record saying they will replace areas where the copper is degraded with FttP, so the current percentages of FttN/FttP/”the rest” can only go up in the FttP portion.

            And if they don’t use more fibre in the areas they need to replace the degraded copper, they’ll be facing even further cost blow-outs…

          • @Tinman,

            Technically, they are on the record as saying if the copper is too degraded to be used for FTTN, they will use another appropriate technology to provide the NBN to that area.

            Have people thought that might just mean putting more people on the Satellite network even if they are suburban?

          • @R0ninX3ph It’s “possible”, but I really doubt it being likely.

            Wireless/4G/etc is a physically finite congested medium…you can only use so much spectrum (unlike fibre/copper where throwing more physical medium at it resolve the issue).

            So I don’t expect they’ll try and saturate their very expensive satellites, and building a lot more wireless base stations/towers won’t make the MTM “Cheaper”.

    • I agree, the major blowouts in cost come from the amount of work that is required to actually install fibre. I have worked hauled fibre and most of the time what is required to fit does not due to the current copper that is present. This means they have to dig it up and put in new pipes. As for running off Telstra’s, there are so many missing details that it makes the work take so much longer and cost so much more.

  4. “delivered more cost-effectively than the previous Labor model, would provide Australia with the infrastructure it needs for the 21st century and cement Turnbull as a visionary with Australia’s long-term future at heart.”

    Not sure if that’s factual statement, more like party propaganda.

  5. Malcolm Turnbull PM may be digitally literate but he has already demonstrated that he is prepared to disregard that same literacy for the sake of political and economic ideology and personal advancement.
    So the question is reduced to …. Is it better to have a vandal who acts out of ignorance of the end results, or one who commits the same acts knowing full well the outcomes?

    I would argue the latter is the worst crime.

    • I rather think that he’s demonstrated that he’s capable of a balanced viewpoint, not just one that gives the foam-at-the-mouth geek brigade what they want at the expense of all else.

      Someone has to pay for this. the geek brigade are quite happy for it to be someone else.

      MT realises that the majority of people aren’t interested in subsidising someone else’s WOW ping.

      • “Someone has to pay for this. the geek brigade are quite happy for it to be someone else.”

        Under all of NBN Co’s analysis, all of the NBN technology scenarios (FTTN, FTTP etc) would pay for themselves in the long run, generating a positive return on the Government’s investment.

      • @Scott It’s the Geeks with our higher than average usage and speed requirements that actually would have paid for a bigger share of the NBN costs and in the process actually subsidising the lower end users! Malcolm has destroyed that high end revenue stream for NBN Co by forcing them to abandon near universal FTTP.

      • Scott, the whole premise is that the people using it pay for it. The only reason “someone else” is paying for it, is if it fails to make ROI.

      • Someone has to pay for this. the geek brigade are quite happy for it to be someone else.

        MT realises that the majority of people aren’t interested in subsidising someone else’s WOW ping.


      • Just to expand on what I posted, it’s not (just) about WoW pings, it’s about “Everything” pings (and bandwidth).

        You can be as smart arse and condescending as you like about it, but even Microsoft and Apple stared out of a garage. Trying to frame the whole thing around “gamers and netflix” like so many of the right like to, totally misses the point of technology, and pretty well shows you want Australia’s future to being “holes in the ground”….

        • Indeed, tho as I and others keep pointing out, Gaming and TV, indeed Entertainment in general are multi-billion dollar industries.
          By having bigger pipes we do increase the influence of other nations in our local industries, yes. But it also provides the paths by which small cottage entertainment industries can develop.

          • Yep.

            I also wonder what’s so wrong with wanting to relax and watch a move, or play a game, without stuttering and/or lag after being a responsible wage slave all day…

  6. I think the author is using the term in a non-standard way. Maybe he is making some type of distinction between Web Literacy and Digital Literacy, but it’s a bit click-baity of a read. The Labor government did a lot towards promoting web literacy. The Parliament all use smartphones, even if Abbott used a Blackberry. Digital literacy covers “how people find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information while using digital technologies.” You don’t need to understand how people learn to read to become literate. Likewise, to be a digital literate, you simply need to know how to use digital technology to communicate with others. Nobody needs to be able to set up an email server to use email, they just need to understand the basics of addressing and clicking send.

  7. The premise is not completely fair. Turnbull is not the first digitally literate PM. Kevin Rudd knew how to post selfies. And he did authorise the original NBN.

  8. What in earth is that blue cable thingy doing plugged into his laptop’s ethernet port? Digital literate indeed! bwahahahaha xD

    • from a group that advocate the lowest latency terrestrial means of connection as being the ultimate… why would you suggest he use a mobility solution at greater cost and lower performance when he doesn’t have to?

      I take it you’d be personally happy to have wireless at home instead of fibre?

      • The difference being, in an office or home situation, the bandwidth provided over Wireless is perfectly adequate, the reason for the “lowest latency terrestrial means of connect” across the country, is because that is the backbone which provides to everyone.

        Wireless is insufficient for this role, but in the house or office? Is perfectly fine, being able to provide well over 300Mbit/s (as long as the pipe coming into the network can provide that).

        • I’m in the insane position of having 1900mbps Wi-Fi-AC fed by 12/1 mbps ADSL. :-(

      • Because you apparently fail to detect sarcasm.

        Also comments from many liberal MPs in the lead up to 2013 went off script (re liberal policy) and implied that wireless would supplant ALL wired connections as it was the “future”.

        I don’t think Turnbull ever did this, but it is worth keeping in mind when you defend the party.

    • Connecting to the wired network is the smart thing to do. Digital literates don’t use wireless unless absolutely necessary.

  9. @ Paul Grenfell

    “Completely wrong.. He is digitally ILLITERATE. ! Otherwise how could he willfully destroy the nbn?”

    +1 ^^

    Couldn’t have said it better myself , other than to add incompetent to the mix . TurnBullShit drop your FTTN & do whats right FTTP ….

    • The term you are looking for is Machiavellian. To do anything else would have annoyed the power mongers in the far right of the “liberal” national coalition.

    • If Malcolm hadn’t of come up with the MTM idea, it’s likely Abbott would have axed the NBN entirely.

        • I siding on the MTM being worse, when counting the cost to the country and considering how soon FttP will need to be implemented anyway.

          • If it wasn’t for the MTM, the more likely choice would be deciding which 4G wireless you should go with…

          • I don’t see how. I’d still be looking for places connected to FttP or settling for ADSL2+ connected premises. If the NBN were cancelled altogether these things wouldn’t have gone away.

        • It’s not really a choice I’d like to have to make in a supposedly progressive country. I hate to say it. but I’d rather see the country “Moving Forward” (a la Julia Gillard) than see it continually sliding back to the 1950’s under Tony…

          And that’s the real horror of the anti-bipartisan politics we’ve suffered under over the last few terms, you were seen as either “all in” for this side, or “all in” for that side, best practice didn’t come in to it.

          That’s why the country has basically gone nowhere since Rudd got in back in 2007 (thanks to both sides of politics). The only good things that happened were accidental, not planned…

  10. OMG! Just heard that Joe Hockey is likely to be new Communications Minister. Another Digital Illiterate.

    • He’s gonna fail at this just as he’s failed in his current job. He should just quit and go back to live in his wife’s house and pay his own mortgage like the rest of us.

  11. Yeah “Now it gets interesting: Australia has its first digitally literate Prime Minister” and the rumor is his first act as PM is to finish the job he started by moving Joe Hockey to be the new communications minister because he did such a great job as treasurer, the header should read “Now Australia’s comms sector is truly bent over by the LNP”

  12. I solemnly vow that I will vote for Malcolm Turnbull if he initiates a royal inquisition into the goings-on of the previous Communications Minister and his policy decisions prior to the 2016 election.

    • While I think Malcolm becoming the leader of the Liberal party (and thus the PM currently) is a “good thing”, I’d hold off on Malcolm starting an RC along those lines, especially when it would be petty likely he could get caught up in that as well.

      • Tinman: I’m certain Hotcakes was being facetious with his comment. Seriously though royal commissions and “strategic reviews” conducted by government appear to be for political slagging only these days.

        Better to just give NBN better goals (ideally agreed in a bipartisan agreement as the project will take more than 8 years to complete) and let them decide how to implement.

        As per my comment above… Minimum 25/4 peak speeds possible to EVERY household line tested capable and stable at that speed in the pouring rain and monitor traffic to ensure contention ratios are kept low enough to ensure no congestion on nbns edge network at peak hours. Then include the cost of upgrading the network to 100/40 minimum by 2030.

        With two better goals and a mandate to consider the future nbn should make an intelligent choice. Seems to me HFC will suffice, FTTN should be totally replaced.with FTTdp.

        • Tinman: I’m certain Hotcakes was being facetious with his comment.

          it can be hard to tell around here if people don’t use /sarc tags…you wouldn’t believe some of the suggestions that have been made “in all seriousness” :)

      • Yeh, considering he has been judged by the majority of voters (obviously including most liberal voters) as being in contempt of the electorate I think that is an obvious no-go-zone for turd-net,.. I mean, Malcolm-in-the-wtbugger?

  13. , on the other hand, raised its cigarette prices by 41-44 cents per pack and reduced the discount
    it offers to retailers to keep its bottom line.

    How to Change Your Beliefs to Overcome Withdrawal Symptoms.

    The electrical activity in the cortex of the brain can be recorrded as brain waves, cerebral are
    measured using EEG, or MEG.

Comments are closed.