Despite the Government’s best efforts to put technology issues and the NBN on the election agenda, experts and politicians are still unsure if everyday voters care.
Monash University senior lecturer in politics, Dr Nick Economou, said the Government’s poor campaigning and refusal to push issues other than the mining tax, ETS and asylum seekers in the first few weeks had lead to a lack of technology coverage.
“Most of the debate has been caught up on such a narrow range of issues as defined by the Government and it’s Labor’s own fault,” he said. “[The ALP] has not allowed talk about what it’s been doing to come to the fore.”
He said the relatively trouble-free deployment of the NBN in Tasmania and the deal struck between Telstra and Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, should all be big wins for the Government campaign, but claimed they were now being drowned out.
“Last week was a disaster for the Labor Party because of the Rudd stuff and that’s a reflection of how dramatic the removal of him was,” Economou said. “So it’s partly the mess that the Government has made of its campaign thus far but I reckon the other element is that a lot of punters don’t quite appreciate what’s being done here.
“When you start talking about the ‘information economy’ or the ‘post-industrial economy’, the older cohorts either glaze over or become scared of it.”
Economou said it was also in the Coalition’s interest to belittle things like the NBN as it could then label the NBN as expendable in its drive to slash spending. This would help position the party as the smarter choice for Australia’s economy.
“If the Coalition was returned to Government it would be with severe financial constraints,” he said. “When you add the spending commitments they’ve already made to entice certain sectors, other things will have to be cut.”
Government Senator, Kate Lundy, said most Australians understood the importance of technology in their lives. She claimed voters in the ACT were very aware of the NBN and often approached her about it.
“It’s not reaching the front of books and newspapers, but it’s getting everywhere else,” she said. “I think it’s one of the under-the-radar issues but when people are reminded of it know it’s there.
“The problem for the media is that in the complete absence of an opposition policy they can’t write both sides of the story… so they don’t write it at all. It’s usually a strategy of the opposition but on this one I think they’re haemorrhaging so I don’t think it’s working for them.”
Liberal MP, Jamie Briggs, denied the delay was an election ploy to silence the issue and said people had a right to know what the Coalition’s plan for broadband was. He claimed it was normal to stagger the announcement of policies to maximise coverage.
“People are driven by different issues,” he said. “Broadband is not the biggest issue in this election thus far but certainly there’s debate about it particularly on whether or not the Government is best to build it.”
While Briggs said broadband and Internet filtering were two tech issues slipping into the public domain, he acknowledged that more obscure tech topics such as IT procurement or software R&D often get completely ignored.
“Ultimately the campaign is like any product, the consumer decides what we really focus on and it’s the voting public that decides which issue they want to pursue the hardest,” he said. “So some issues are debated more often than others around election time.
“If it is an issue that will change votes then it’s one that will get a whole lot more attention.”