Traditionalist Abbott keeps BlackBerry as PM's department prefers iPhone

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is one of just a few ministers in the Australian government reportedly still using a BlackBerry phone, while his department has said it only issues iPhones now.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

While the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet now only issues iPhones, one hold out from moving away from BlackBerry is the Prime Minister himself, while most government agencies are leaning towards iPhone or Android as the standard-issue device for ministers.

(Image: ParlView screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

Earlier this month, ZDNet revealed that the Department of Parliamentary Services had stopped supporting BlackBerry smartphones after the last member of parliament to be issued with a BlackBerry was moved onto an iPhone at the end of June. It is believed that member is Liberal MP and former attorney-general Philip Ruddock.

BlackBerry was the platform of choice within government, but the rise of the iPhone, Android, and other smartphones as well as the advent of bring-your own-device caused the public service to face pressure to allow staff to use non-BlackBerry devices for work purposes.

In 2012, Australian Signals Directorate finally approved iPhone use and has since extended approval to a range of Android and Windows Phone devices. This has seen many departments and their ministers shift away from using the traditional BlackBerry to using iPhone or Android.

Department of Parliamentary Services issues smartphones to all MPs as part of its one-stop-shop and that shop no longer supports BlackBerry, but ministers and parliamentary secretaries that can't kick the BlackBerry habit could potentially still obtain the phone directly from their department for ministerial activity.

BlackBerry's local managing director, Matthew Ball, gave an interview to The Australian after ZDNet's first story last week, where he revealed that Prime Minister Tony Abbott still uses a BlackBerry.

"Obama, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, even our own Tony Abbott, they're using BlackBerry devices on a BlackBerry server," Australian MD Ball said last week.

This device is issued by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. ZDNet asked DPMC about its BlackBerry deployment and a spokesperson for the department said the agency only issued Apple iPhones, but noted there were still some BlackBerry phones in use.

"The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet presently issues Apple iPhones; some Blackberry devices are still in use," the spokesperson said.

"The Department's preference is to issue Apple iPhones."

BlackBerry declined to comment when asked if any other ministers continued to use their handsets, but using information made available through Senate Estimates, ZDNet investigated which agencies are still issuing BlackBerry devices to their respective ministers.

According to answers to question on notice since the Coalition government came to power in September 2013, as few as eight ministers or parliamentary secretaries have gone on the record as being issued with BlackBerry phones by their departments, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The Department of Health indicated it issued iPhones to ministerial staff, but also said in June 2014, there were still 284 active BlackBerry devices used in the department, as well as 267 Nokia 301 devices.

The Human Services minister Marise Payne was reported to be using an iPhone 5 in June last year, while her staff have been issued with iPhone 5 and iPhone 4 devices.

Treasury switched from BlackBerry to iPhones in 2013, but the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has a mixture of iPhone 5 and 6, and BlackBerry Z30 devices in his office.

The Department of Education has issued the offices of its ministers and parliamentary secretary with 18 iPhones mid last year.

The Department of Employment issued 23 iPhones to ministers and staff, with just one BlackBerry issued to a ministerial staff member.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt uses an iPhone 5S, as of the end of 2014, with his advisors being issued with an iPhone 6 or an iPhone 5S.

The Attorney-General's Department issues iPhones to ministers and staff "as the standard device". The Immigration Department last issued iPhones to the office of the Immigration Minister.

The office of then-social services minister Kevin Andrews was an iPhone shop with 14 devices issued, while Mitch Fifield had nine iPhones, and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells had four iPhones.

In response to a Question on Notice last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed that the agency had "a mix of iPhones and BlackBerry" issued to the office of ministers, with 32 iPhones, and two BlackBerry phones. Two BlackBerry phones were issued to the office of Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Steve Ciobo.

Last year it was reported that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had her phone hacked when in the Ukraine.

The Department of Defence's last report on the issuing of BlackBerry devices had 15 in the office of then-minister David Johnston, with 11 in the office of his assistant minister Stuart Robert, and four in the office of the parliamentary secretary Darren Chester.

The Department of Communications has not detailed the specific devices provided to the minister and the parliamentary secretary, but Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a known iPhone user.

The Department of Finance last indicated it issued both iPhone 5 devices and BlackBerry Bold 9900 to its minister's office.

The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development reported in February 2014 that it issued iPhone 5 and 5S to its ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and parliamentary secretary Richard Colbeck were issued with 15 iPhones on coming into office at the end of 2013, and in the department there were a total of 407 BlackBerry phones, and 563 iPhones at the end of 2013.

A spokesperson for BlackBerry told ZDNet that the move away from BlackBerry in the ministry of the government "misses the point", with the company focusing on its device management platform, BES12, that works across iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

"BlackBerry manages all major mobile platforms and does it more securely than our competitors. And with our Secure Work Space solution, we also secure more than 80 iOS and Android apps for enterprise customers, more than other [mobile device management] vendors," the spokesperson said.

"BlackBerry's device and software strategy is focused around offering the most secure end-to-end mobile infrastructure. That means developing the most secure devices as well as the most secure management software and network. That's why some of the largest banks, global leaders and all G7 governments choose BlackBerry."

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