Policy plea sees party pressure on Alston

Policy plea sees party pressure on Alston

Internal party pressures on Australian Federal Communications and IT Minister, Senator Richard Alston, to either lift his game or hand back his portfolio spilled into the public arena last week.

Liberal Senator, Dr John Tierney, addressing a full room of industry representatives at an 'information breakfast' provided by automated voice response vendor Syntropy, called for Australia to develop a comprehensive Information Policy and become more like Singapore and less like the UK in the ICT stakes.

"What is appropriate public policy here in Australia to address equity issues? Singapore is a good portal to a vision of the future," Tierney said, adding that the UK "thinks" it has an information policy.

Tierney then took a swipe at Alston's current policy, singling out Australia Post - wholly owned by the government - for special attention.

He claimed that its profit-driven structure was stymieing regional services participation in the information economy.

"In a vast, sparsely populated continent we have to work at transmogrify[ing] existing resources," Tierney said.

"IBM became a mega business when it realised that it was not in the typewriter business but in the information business. If Australia Post focuses on access to information the Christmas cards will cease cluttering up valuable floor space and be replaced by Internet access terminals."

Australia Post responded to the sledging by saying the Senator's comments "reflect his personal views" and defended its right to cross-sell: "It makes sense for people to be able to buy Christmas cards from the … place where they purchase stamps … and which delivers those cards.

"Australia Post has trialled Internet terminals in some metropolitan and regional outlets, but there was only limited customer interest in this service."

Tierney said he had canvassed his "utopian vision" of information equity and policy "in depth" with the Prime Minister, with whom he was understood to be ideologically close, having acted as a negotiator for the government with employees of the collapsed company National Textiles.

The speech was warmly received by the audience which included representatives from the ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and other blue chips, utilities including Sydney Water and Telstra, as well as Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink. Name tags were conspicuously absent at the invitation-only event.

A source close to the Liberal Party said that there appeared to be groundswell in support of a change in policy, possibly backed by a change in minister. Asked if Alston was under direct pressure to make way for new blood, another source inside the party deftly sidestepped a denial by saying that "there are always rumours".

John Tierney is a man who proudly wears his love of technology on his sleeve. He is acutely aware of government's need to be seen to deliver technologies which bring visible and tangible economic benefits to business and marginalised communities - a sell that Alston has so far found visibly difficult.

No comment was available from Senator Alston's office before deadline.

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