NBN debate overshadows more important issues: Turnbull

Australian Minister of Communications says the creation of an innovation culture has to be the focus.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

The fortune of high wage economies, such as Australia's, and of their social security nets is at stake as global competition from lower wage and higher skilled countries grows, according to Australia's Minister of Communications Malcolm Turnbull.

The answer is innovation, he said, but in Australia the debate over the National Broadband Network (NBN) is overshadowing that discussion.

Turnbull told the Korea, Australia, New Zealand Technology Summit in Auckland today that global competition has been amplified by the internet with businesses large, small, and local now facing competition from all over the world.

But while competition has exploded, so too have the opportunities for businesses.

Turnbull cited New Zealand's Xero and Australia's Freelancer.com as examples of how businesses in the region can use such globalisation to their advantage and succeed. He added that consumer demand in emerging markets, which he said is set to triple, is another opportunity.

The minister said Australia's NBN project had been poorly conceived and badly managed. New Zealand, where the government did not assume construction risk, but subsidised the rollout to ensure near universal service, had set the "gold standard" for such projects.

He said while NBN board and management had been changed, the final objective stayed the same, delivering fast broadband access for Australians but using a mix of technologies, not just fibre.

Turnbull said governments can't legislate innovation into existence, but they can help create environment where it can happen.

The role of government is to serve the people, he said. The UK is setting an example of how digital transformation can help achieve that and get simple enquiries and transactions completed easily.

New Zealand and Australia are pursuing similar efforts, he said, singling out the New Zealand government identity service RealMe for special mention, saying its progress is being followed with "great interest".

Governments should not only be digital be default, they should be open by default, he said. Government data can add billions of dollars to GDP and should be freely available in machine readable formats.

Turnbull said Australia suffered from a crowdfunding gap, with just 12 portals for funding compared with the over 300 in the US. He said Australia was looking closely at policies in the New Zealand government's Business Growth Agenda to encourage more crowd funding in Australia.

He added that a key initiative would be to change the tax rules, especially those concerning the taxation of employee share options, which in Australia have been taxed when granted since 2009.


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