Technology will be everything and nothing in this election

As Australia prepares to head to the polls, technology will play a central role in the democratic process — but don't expect the NBN to be front and centre.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

If you bought tickets to the "Great NBN election policy showdown of 2013", I'm sorry to say that you should head back to the box office and get a refund. This election will be fought on other matters, and barring any major stuff-ups, broadband will be a side issue in the 2013 campaign.

As far as points of difference are concerned, the policies of the major parties are not far apart. This is not the 2010 election, where the Coalition was proposing to scrap the NBN and sell off its assets.

At the time, Labor could go to the electorate and quite rightly claim that it was the only party with a plan for broadband. This time around, the electorate has to decide on what sort of NBN they want.

Should the NBN be built as a more time-consuming and more expensive FttH rollout that will bring higher download speeds? Or should the nation take the quick hit, and get to 25Mbps over the next three years?

In the annals of great policy debates, the current alternative NBN propositions are too similar to rate a mention.

The NBN is no longer under existential threat by the Coalition, therefore what is being debated are implementation details.

It is possible in 2013 to form a coherent argument for the Coalition's NBN plans, even it is still missing the crucial element of a move to a fibre future, which, given the positions previously put up by the Liberal party, is a major contribution to public discourse.

NBN FttH zealots will not like hearing that their issue du jour is being relegated to the electoral backbench, but have no fear: If the FttH zealot's political apocalypse arrives, and Malcolm Turnbull becomes the new minister for Communications, you can still have a fibre connection to your home at a cost.

If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so? For a few thousand dollars, the elector could enjoy a modern broadband connection and address one of their highest concerns. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy, and, in connectivity terms, akin to squibbing on the greatest moral challenge of our time.

The other reason that we are unlikely to see an NBN showdown of note is due to the participants concerned.

In the Coalition's corner is one of the most technically adept senior shadow ministers of recent times.

At a Politics in the Pub forum held by the member for Wentworth last week, attendees witnessed a politician who could discuss the issues of online security, surveillance, and communications without resorting to clichés and talking points. There are few members of the parliament who could hold a discussion on whether files inside of a citizen's Dropbox account should be treated the same as a shoebox under the bed, without saying those immortal words: "I am not a tech-head, but...".

Turnbull is fully across the issues of his portfolio, and probably a few others as well, make no mistake about it.

From the Labor side, Turnbull no longer has a single adversary to go up against, but a quartet of ministers charged with selling Labor's outlook. Among them are two junior ministers, in the form of Ed Husic and Kate Lundy, who could discuss the issues as in depth as Turnbull — just do not expect to see it happen.

To send Husic or Lundy into the ring to face off against Turnbull would be like the Coalition sending its minister for regional communications, Luke Hartsuyker, up against Anthony Albanese. Although these two match-ups would be more equivalent in terms of technical process, the simple rule remains that junior ministers do not go head-to-head against senior ministers in debates — and nor should they.

Albanese has already exposed his knowledge gap in the technical arena when he admitted that he is "not a tech head" only days after adding the Communications portfolio to his remit.

Labor has fallen foul of needing to find a quick fix for the portfolio, after its previously well-established minister, Stephen Conroy, resigned as a consequence of Kevin Rudd returning to the prime ministership.

While Albanese is a proven parliamentary performer, and clearly well regarded by his peers, as his recent elevation to the role of deputy prime minister shows, his performance on the July 8 instalment of ABC's Q&A left a lot to be desired, and starkly showed the knowledge gap between Turnbull and Albanese.

It is not surprising that Turnbull's call for an NBN debate with Albanese has been met with silence.

Albanese is simply not up to speed enough to take the fight to Turnbull, like we saw Conroy do in a Google Hangout in May.

Labor can also continue to deny the Coalition the NBN debate it wants, as long as Tony Abbott is refusing to give Kevin Rudd the series of debates that the prime minister is after.

For the next few weeks, expect to see both sides of politics sniping at each other through the media; for Labor, it is a safer place to debate Turnbull.

This election has greater issues to deal with than whether a home will receive a 25Mbps FttN connection or a 100MBps FttH connection: The economy is in transition, Rudd's carbon tax/ETS versus Abbott's green army response to climate change, which paid parental scheme the nation wants, and the asylum seeker situation.

As much as I would love to have 1Gbps fibre connections hooked up across the country, the economic and climate change debates trump the short-term needs of better connectivity.

Where technology is going to play a major, if not sickening, role in this election is in the field of social media.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, even Google+ — you name the social network, it will be covered in electioneering of all types.

A cursory glance at the PM's Instagram account tells the story for the next five weeks: Hard hats, stage management, and meeting the nation. In a page from the Obama playbook, even the prime ministerial spouse got in on the act yesterday.

This should hardly be surprising, as Rudd last week called in a trio of Obama strategists.

"All three have played key roles in Barack Obama's US presidential election campaigns using sophisticated social media and field operations," reported AAP.

Expect to see wall-to-wall social media promotion from all the parties. It's shaping up as the closest thing that many of us will come to living through an American presidential election.

Technology as a policy has already been covered, we've all had four months to digest the Coalition's NBN plans, but technology as a medium, that's just getting started, and it is only going to ramp up from here.

For the next five weeks, strap yourself in, put the cat out, and make sure you have a healthy collection of your stiffest drink on hand — we are about to be hit with a deluge of social media like never before.

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