Labor has more vision on 5G: Rowland

The government must formulate a more detailed 5G plan that looks to 2030 and beyond and ties into the entire digital economy strategy, according to Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has spoken on Labor's 5G vision, arguing on behalf of greater digital inclusion and tie-ins with the government's overall digital economy strategy and transformation.

Rowland described the government's 5G program as having an absence of strategy and a lack of digital inclusion, fuelled by "empty slogans of innovation".

According to the shadow minister, the federal opposition party views 5G as a tool to progress fairness and "inclusive growth" across society, with the current government not having used 3G, 4G, or broadband for this.

"While the radio-frequency spectrum that enables 5G is a finite resource, the reality is that fairness has never been finite," she said during a keynote speech at the 5G Business Summit in Sydney on Tuesday morning.

"5G technology does have transformative potential across the economy, and society will increasingly be explored by all portfolios of government. However, transformational change and improvements for the better will not necessarily flow from the technology alone. Having a new technology doesn't mean there is the will to use it, or the means to overcome barriers to its use.

"To realise transformational change, what is needed is a clear vision and strategy, strong and effective leadership, and a commitment to implementation on the ground ... we should be monitoring and refining implementation of these critical strategies in Australia, not wondering where they are."

Rowland blasted the Coalition's "inept" and "ineffective" digital transformation strategy, including the Census debacle and the opt-outs from My Health Record over the past week, saying all Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has done is made "a few paltry announcements pointing limply at directions or undertaking to announce strategies in future".

"In five years, the Liberals have utterly failed to deliver a joined-up 5G strategy, digital economy strategy, or a digital inclusion strategy to call their own," she argued.

"They don't even have in place an effective digital transformation strategy for the delivery of government services. On the implementation side, this government has botched just about every big digital program it's touched. The so-called innovation prime minister can't get an online census to work properly, let alone the MyGov portal. Even yesterday, one of his own MPs declared he's opting out of the government's My Health Record system, so poor is their record on digital transformation."

Labor also continues to be "dismayed" about the abandonment of the full-fibre National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout, which Rowland said has undermined Australia's digital economic competitiveness as well as increasing the digital divide.

"While governments overseas are investing in 5G, this government is investing more in copper," she said.

Pointing to the UK government's announcement on abandoning legacy copper to deploy full-fibre broadband by 2033, Rowland later on Monday said Turnbull "must do the same".

"Malcolm Turnbull's multi-technology mix is not faster or cheaper. It is slower, less reliable, and ultimately more expensive," she said.

"Labor repeats its call on the government to abandon fibre to the node wherever feasible, and at a minimum deploy fibre to the curb. The more fibre we deploy now in Australia the better off consumers and taxpayers will be."

While Rowland did not go into specifics of Labor's strategy for 5G and technology, she said that overall, it would be used to create economic and social inclusion.

"People are hungry for vision in this country ... neither technology alone nor acknowledging the logic of universal design is enough. We need comprehensive joined-up strategies for the digital economy, inclusive of 5G, founded on a clear vision of the fair and equal society we want to be," she said.

"We also need effective implementation of those strategies so that we realise the benefits of the digital age across the general population, as well as the vulnerable and excluded ... the year 2020 is less than a year and a half away. We actually need comprehensive plans that look to 2030 and beyond to guide Australia's transition to an economy and society that's prosperous and fair in a world enabled by 5G, rather than a policy void or a piecemeal reactive plans that tinker at the edges.

"We need a fair go by design. And that is Labor's agenda."

The 5G World Alliance had earlier this week criticised Australia's progress on 5G, with chair Latif Ladid suggesting improvements to the situation including developing more experts, formulating pressure groups to face government, and a more detailed technology roadmap.

Speaking at a roundtable during the 5G Business Summit on Monday, Ladid said Australia needs an expert group made up of carrier and networking CTOs, and a working group for every 5G vertical to ensure businesses in sectors such as mining will take up and pay for such technologies.

In order to develop future local experts, Ladid said it is important to introduce a university curriculum because "there is zero in this country".

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