Turnbull considers communications minister replacement

The topic of who will become the next communications minister after the last one was elevated to prime minister is continuing, with Hockey, Pyne, and Fletcher all rumoured possibilities.
Written by Corinne Reichert on

While new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to make several changes when he announces his new Cabinet on Monday, one of the biggest questions is who he will choose to appoint as his replacement as minister for communications.

There have been rumours about both current Minister for Education Christopher Pyne and Treasurer Joe Hockey being given the job; however, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher, who is currently serving as the interim communications minister, could also be promoted into the job.

"It's up to the prime minister to decide who serves and in what role; whatever role I may be asked to serve in, I will be happy to do so," Fletcher told ZDNet on Tuesday.

With Turnbull on Thursday stating his intention to instate more women in positions of power, however, it is also possible that a female MP could be promoted.

"There is no greater enthusiast than me for seeing more women in positions of power and influence in parliament," Turnbull told journalists in Canberra on Wednesday.

Hockey refused to speculate on what portfolio, if any, he will be given in the reshuffle.

"No, I am not going to answer that question," he said. "No, no I am not going to speculate on it, calm down."

Analyst firm Ovum said the NBN is a vital infrastructure project to the Australian economy, and emphasised the importance of ensuring the new minister understands technology.

"With a number of names still swirling in the mists of the Canberra crystal ball at the time of writing, it's still unclear who will inherit the mantle of overseeing the Communications portfolio and, importantly, the NBN," said Al Blake, principal analyst for Government Technology at Ovum.

"Although he was following the party line, there was always uncertainty as to how strongly Turnbull personally supported that [MTM] approach, and his elevation to the PM spot may allow for an NBN recalibration.

"Given the political realities, it would be impossible to go back to the original Labor plan - but we may see the proportion technologies slide further towards FttP, which would mean world-call broadband performance for a greater percentage of Australians. Having someone with an understanding of technology at the highest position in government cannot be underestimated."

During his time as communications minister, Turnbull established the Digital Transformation Office (DTO); revised the technology to be used in the National Broadband Network (NBN), as well as undertaking frequent reviews into the NBN; and merged the digital productivity arm of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and National ICT Australia (NICTA) after Abbott's government had slashed their funding.

Upon being voted into power two years ago, the Coalition government moved away from a full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN rollout to the present so-called multi-technology mix (MTM) network incorporating fibre to the node (FttN), fibre to the building (FttB), and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC).

In September 2014, Turnbull began consultation to modify the migration process after the original May 2014 deadline to get residents off the legacy copper had failed. NBN subsequently signed revised deals with Telstra and Optus allowing NBN to take ownership of Telstra's legacy copper and both Telstra and Optus' HFC network assets.

Last month, it was revealed in NBN's three-year corporate plan that the peak funding cost for the project will reach between AU$46 billion and AU$56 billion, with a base case peak funding target of AU$49 billion.

"The corporate plan shows that the multi-technology mix remains the most cost- and time-efficient means of completing the NBN, delivering upgrades six to eight years sooner, and at around $30 billion less cost than an all-fibre to the premises alternative," Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said in a joint statement.

"The government's broadband policy is technology agnostic. NBN Co is free to use whatever mix of technologies is required to get the job done as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. The company therefore has, in the light of its extensive experience building FttP, determined what the peak funding requirement and time to complete would be for an all-FttP build.

"The company's conclusion is that an all-FttP approach, as proposed by Labor, would have a peak funding requirement of $74 billion to $84 billion and would not be finished until as late as 2028."

Turnbull's other major technology project, the DTO, works across all government agencies in collaboration with businesses and universities, and was tasked in January with creating a single online myGov portal for dozens of government-related services.

"This is an exciting initiative, but it's also complex and requires significant cultural change," the then-communications minister said in a statement.

"Government services don't face competition in the traditional sense, but that doesn't mean they should be immune from the disruptive technologies that are having an impact right across the economy.

"The DTO needs to adopt an agile, startup-like culture, so it's important that we recruit people with the right mix of skills and attitude to speed up the transformation of government services."

With AAP

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