- IN DEPTH: ELECTION 2010 - Your first stop on the political trail. An ARN supersite with news, comment, analysis, interviews, and debate from a channel and IT perspective
As the Federal election draws near the battle lines are being drawn between our Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her long-term Liberal party sparring partner, Tony Abbott. In preparation, here are some of the top technology and communications issues that will affect business and people throughout Australia along with a breakdown of where the situation stands. We start with a breakdown of stances on mandatory filtering, Telstra's separation and the National Broadband Network.
1. MANDATORY FILTERING
This hot-button topic has been top of mind for Australians in the know when it comes to technology. The Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the Shadow Communications Minister, Tony Smith, have both spoken on this topic with a range of sources, including ARN.
But outside technology, religious and civil libertarian, circles, the issue has failed to ignite mainstream speculation in the same way mining taxes and environmental issues have.
The latest news is that Minister Conroy has delayed the introduction of draft legislation until after a meeting of the Federal and State attorneys-general. This means it won’t be put together until after the election.
In the mean time, a filter system will be introduced by Telstra, Optus and Primus. All customers of these internet service providers will be filtered through a system that bans sites according to an Australia Communications and Media Authority blacklist.
Although this ‘voluntary’ system is expected to have several other ISPs sign up soon, it won’t be in place for at least a few months pending discussions around how to do it and who will pay for it.
The Coalition’s Shadow Communication Minister, Tony Smith, has labelled the Government’s decision to postpone the filtering bill’s drafting as a ‘humiliating backdown’. He’s also criticised Conroy for being too slow in releasing filtering trial results and called it complex and problematic.
But the Shadow Minister has also been keen not to come out against filtering as a concept. During in-depth interviews with ARN, Smith has been keen to note his main objection is to the potential speed slowdowns and not the principle of a filter.
To this end, the Coalition has officially welcomed steps taken by Australia’s ISPs to sign up for the voluntary filter.
2. TELSTRA'S SEPARATION
The former Government telco monopoly, Telstra, had its market strength eroded by the Labor party and was privatised by the Coalition. Both parties have battled against the Telstra’s strength in an effort to change the telco scene.
The Labor government’s push to build a National Broadband Network has meant a deal with Telstra for its existing infrastructure would save a large amount of taxpayer money.
But Telstra’s 1.4 million shareholders hold plenty of votes in key electorates around Australia and the company’s public listing on the Australian Stock Exchange means it has to do what’s best for them alone.
The ALP has let Minister Conroy take the lead on this issue on behalf of the Federal Government. Conroy has played a hard game and threatened firm action against Telstra using legislation.
Most recently, it signed a deal worth $11 billion that will get the NBN access to its infrastructure while appeasing shareholders. This has been a major feather in Labor’s cap and provides a good news story in the run up to the election.
The Shadow Communications Minister has tried to keep Telstra’s shareholders in mind. The party moved firmly against the splitting of Telstra and will not force it to structurally separate if it wins the election.
Smith has promised to review access regimes to boost competition between the companies in an effort to appease Telstra’s rivals, who have lobbied long and hard to split Telstra up.
3. THE NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK
The NBN and its original $43 billion price tag will play a major role in the upcoming election. This nationwide infrastructure project aims to see a fibre optic network linking every house and premise in Australia with Internet speeds of up to 100Mbps.
All communities with more than 1000 people will be linked in by fibre, while satellite services, wireless technology and other methods will bring the rest of rural Australia up to speed with high-speed broadband.
Conroy’s signing of a financial heads of agreement with Telstra to use its existing infrastructure for NBN Co’s build takes a massive weight off the Government’s shoulder. While the Government claims it could’ve been built without Telstra’s cooperation, the price would have very high and embarrassing.
The ALP’s use of NBN Co to start and run the work ensures Conroy and his party already have firm progress to point at during the election campaign. Some MPs are already using their electorate’s inclusions in the first and second release sites as evidence of their hard work.
With the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program hitting major snags in public schools and the housing insulation program causing severe embarrassment (and potentially deaths), the NBN will be main example of nation building used by Gillard and Conroy throughout the election season.
Since Telstra’s deal has not been finalised, the Coalition will continue to use the NBN and its potential $42 billion price tag as a key example of irresponsible spending. This will form a key part of its argument that the ALP cannot be trusted with the finances of Australia.
But Government ads promoting the benefits of an NBN on prime time television around Australia will most likely result in the Coalition bringing out an alternative plan of its own.
Private enterprise will play a major role in any proposal brought forward, as will the use of existing infrastructure. The Coalition’s version will not be as fast as the Government’s NBN, but it won’t cost nearly as much either.