ICT to remain a strong focus under Gillard: Industry

Some speculation over potential reshuffle of the communications minister role

The sudden shift in Federal leadership, which has seen Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, ousted in favour his deputy, Julia Gillard, has produced a strong note of optimism within Australia's ICT industry.

Australian Internet Industry Association (AIIA) chief executive officer (CEO), Ian Birks, said he was hopeful that communication around major ICT initiatives, such as the separation of Telstra and the National Broadband Network (NBN) would improve.

“A key reason for the change was to be able to better communicate some of their polices… the recent change with the Telstra agreement will bring a higher degree of confidence and the government will now want to communicate the benefits of the NBN more,” he said.

“We always had a sense with Kevin Rudd that he understood the power of transformation through information technology and I hope that will continue to be the case with the new Prime Minister.”

On the issue of the mandatory ISP-level Internet filter, Birks said it was likely that a new position would be reached quickly in order to provide greater clarity of the policy ahead of the next election.

It was unlikely, Birks said, that a new communications minister would result from Gillard’s expected Cabinet reshuffle following her appointment to the role of Prime Minister.

“Senator Conroy is very deeply engaged, understands all the issues well so there is unlikely to be a change there,” he said.

Rather than potentially split the communications minister role into NBN minister and ICT minister roles, Birks said the AIIA was pushing for the appointment of a chief technology officer-type role within the Federal Government to drive ICT issues across all portfolios.

“If you look at the Obama administration they have taken a senior technology industry person into that role, it’s a smart thing to do, and I think they are now putting CTO-type people into the larger agencies so that there is an understanding of what technology can do,” he said. “Here, it would work better if it wasn’t a politically-based appointment.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) spokesperson, Colin Jacobs, said he was waiting on “tenter hooks” for a cabinet reshuffle which could lead toward a shift in policy on the ISP-level filter.

“The filter has been heavily identified with [Senator] Conroy, and he has been by far and away the most vociferous proponent of it. Other members of the [Labor] party are not fans of it at all,” he said.

“Senator Lundy is an obvious potential contender as a new communications minister and her style and understanding of the industry are in sharp contrast to Conroy’s. If there was a change like that, then it could mean a big shift in Filter policy.”

Further, Jacobs suggested that while Senator Conroy’s tough approach over the Telstra and NBN Co negotiations may have been useful, now that a Heads of Agreement deal head been reached, it was time for a new leadership style.

“Now that the hard yards are done, and given what else is happening within the Labor party, it may well be time for a new Communications Minister,” he said.

Internet Industry Association (IIA) CEO, Peter Coroneos, said given that an election was likely to be called shortly, the Telstra separation and Internet filter legislation, was unlikely to proceed until after the Government was returned to office.

“As to whether Julia Gillard will go forward with [the Telstra separation, NBN and ISP filter legislation] as renewed policy commitments is very hard to gauge as the Government has had a very hard time convincing people of their legitimacy and effectiveness,” he said. “If the government had the choice of the two, the money would be absolutely on the NBN legislation taking priority.”

Coroneos said he was hopeful a Gillard government would revisit and rethink its position on the ISP filter following the election. He also added that the likelihood of a communications minister reshuffle was low.

“This late in the piece, the likelihood of a major reshuffle is very low, and apart from anything else, if the NBN legislation is to remain a priority in this term, there is not a lot of benefit in changing leadership of the portfolio,” he said. “Getting a new minister in and briefing them up in time to get this legislation through could be a big ask.”

If on the other hand, the election was pushed back, the likelihood that the communications minister role could be split into an NBN minister and ICT minister, could be a possibility, Coroneos said.

A Competitive Carriers Coalition (CCC) spokesperson that it did not anticipate that Gillard’s appointment would initiate a change in telecommunications policy and that it was hopefully current policies, such as the NBN and the separation of Telstra, continued.

“The NBN has had the full support of all senior ministers, so no change [is] expected,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the organisation did not expect a reshuffle of the communications minister role.

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Tags Julia GillardKevin RuddICTSenator Stephen ConroyefaSenator Kate Lundyisp-level internet content filtering

More about Australian Information Industry AssocAustralian Internet Industry AssociationEFAElectronic Frontiers AustraliaetworkFederal GovernmentIIAInternet Industry AssociationTelstra Corporation

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