The Federal Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts is set to be rolled into a new consolidated entity combining the remit for infrastructure, transport and regional development as part of major governmental restructure.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the changes on 5 December, saying that the Governor-General had approved his recommendation to reduce the number of Government departments from 18 to 14.
As part of the changes, the Department of Communications and the Arts, which was created in late 2015 after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, will now become part of the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
As its title suggests, the new entity will also incorporate the current Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, as well as the current Department of Communications and the Arts.
As a refresher, the Department of Communications and the Arts oversees the functions and operations of Australia’s broader internet industry, along with the telecommunications industry and the country’s mobile spectrum management, among other areas.
While it remains to be seen if the disappearance of the Department of Communications and the Arts as a discrete government department will result in a slimming down of the resources feeding its activity, Morrison suggested that the move was made to ensure a more efficient and effective delivery of government services.
“The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges. For example, better integrating the Government’s education and skills agenda and ensuring Australians living in regional areas can access the infrastructure and services they need,” Morrison said in a statement.
The move sees the Communications portfolio, as a core part of a major government Department, appear to become somewhat diminished since its creation in 2015 after Malcolm Turnbull, who famously has a professional history in the telecommunications industry, became Prime Minister.
Something of a personal project for Turnbull, he held the position of Shadow Communications Minister from 2010-13, before becoming Minister for Communications under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s administration.
It was under Turnbull, as Communications Minister, that the Abbot administration revamped the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout with a multi-technology mix (MTM) approach and a move away from a mostly fibre-based network, a decision that has since received no small amount of criticism from some segments of the industry.
The new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications will be headed by Simon Atkinson, who was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development in November.
Other changes see the current Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; energy functions from the current Department of the Environment and Energy; and small business functions from the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business rolled into the creation of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
Additionally, the creation of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment will consolidate the current Department of Education; and the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
Meanwhile, the creation of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will consolidate the current Department of Agriculture; and environment functions from the current Department of the Environment and Energy.
The new structure will be implemented before Parliament returns next year.