News National Q&A: ‘Most people would’ve been demoted’
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Q&A: ‘Most people would’ve been demoted’

Amaysim currently offers SIM-only mobile and data plans. Photo: AAP
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He was hailed as the innovative, free-thinking politician who was going to bring a stagnant government into the 21st century.

But according to Labor’s Ed Husic, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation record so far has been nothing but a disappointment — especially when it comes to the NBN.

“When Malcolm Turnbull took over as Communications Minister, we were ranked 30 in terms of broadband speeds in the world. Now we are ranked at 60.

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“Most people would be demoted with a record like that; he got promoted to Prime Minister.”

Mr Husic, who is shadow parliamentary secretary assisting with digital innovation and startups, was a panelist on Monday night’s episode of Q&A, which focused heavily on the future of innovation in Australia.

Labor's Ed Husic pointed out that Australia's web speeds have plummeted in world rankings.
Labor’s Ed Husic pointed out that Australia’s web speeds have plummeted in world rankings.

Although staffed with admirable technology experts, including quantum physicist and technologist Michael Biercuk, the Twittersphere wasn’t overly impressed with the panelists’ tendency to proselytise on the virtues of innovation without actually offering any concrete solutions.

The audience (both on-screen and Twitter) were least impressed with the government’s decision to ditch the fibre-to-the-home NBN option favoured by Labor and instead opt for the cheaper, but slower, fibre-to-the-node.

This was noted by Holly Ransom, former chair of the G20 Youth Summit, who said fast internet was necessary to build a productive economy.

“I think this is a frustrating issue … and I have never seen an audience simultaneously shake its heads like when NBN got mentioned,” she said to applause.

When the Coalition won government in 2013, then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull released a plan to complete the NBN “sooner and at lower cost” than Labor’s scheme, which had been costed (according to Mr Turnbull) at more than $90 billion.

The Coalition’s NBN is cheaper because it only provides full-fibre connections to 20 per cent of premises. The rest is a combination of fibre-to-the-node (points in the street), HFC cables (used for cable TV) and some wireless and satellite services.

When asked by an audience member why the government went back on the faster NBN, “which was going to be cornerstone investment in the country’s infrastructure to drive the innovation ecosystem”, the Coalition’s representative, the young and verbose Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy, said his ideal scenario would be for Australians to have the world’s best internet at no cost, but that “rhetoric and reality” had to be separated.

wyatt
Liberal MP Wyatt Roy defended the government’s NBN plan.

Mr Roy said Australians should consider those who live in the rural areas whose internet has just been upgraded from dial-up speeds. He said it “wasn’t good enough” that some people in country areas would have to wait six years to have internet above dial-up speed just so the rest of Australia could boast about having the fastest speed worldwide.

However, after the panel and audience continued to shake their heads, Mr Roy admitted that if “we could go back and re-design the system, of course you wouldn’t roll it out the way it’s been done”.

“A government monopoly is very bad. You wouldn’t do it,” he said, referring to the NBN Company.

Quantum physicist Michael Biercuk dismissed the idea that the government’s current internet plan would help Australia’s innovation economy.

“From the perspective of being a physicist and someone who worked at a US agency focused on innovation … it was obvious from the beginning that anything other than fibre would not possibly deliver what was promised.”

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