Paul Fletcher’s appointment as Minister for Communications, Cybersafety and the Arts as part of Scott Morrison’s Second Ministry leaves him with the onerous task of working through some big-ticket items that have long haunted past governments.
Mr Fletcher said he was “deeply honoured” and pledged that any future communications policies would only be put in place with economic and social benefit in mind.
“As Minister I will aim to take forward policy settings which maximise this contribution. With many parts of the communications sector facing profound and continuing change, sound policy settings will be more important than ever,” he said.
“A key priority will be completing the roll-out of the NBN. In 2013 we inherited a shambles from Labor with barely 50,000 premises connected to the fixed network.
“Today 9.28 million premises around Australia are able to connect to the NBN and almost 5.3 million premises are connected.
“Another priority will be to continue the Morrison Government’s work to make the internet a safer place for the millions of Australians who use it every day.”
The former Optus executive and the minister originally responsible for the federal government’s Mobile Black Spot Program roll-out takes over from Mitch Fifield, who has held the communications portfolio since September 2015.
Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton welcomed Mr Fletcher’s appointment acknowledging that his commercial and industry experience in the sector would benefit the role.
“During his period as Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, from 2013-15, Paul worked closely and constructively with industry and other stakeholders on a package of ‘red-tape reduction’ initiatives,” Mr Stanton said.
“I think Paul recognises, better than most, that a balance needs to be struck between the imposition and costs imposed on industry and consumers by additional layers of regulation, compared with the benefits that can be generated. We look forward to working with the new Minister.”
These views are not dissimilar from Paul Budde Consulting chief executive Paul Budde. He said that the appointment signals stability within government and is optimistic that Mr Fletcher’s industry qualifications may be an opportunity to gather bipartisan support across the telecommunications sector.
“It means we can take the politicking out. The government now has a responsibility to govern for the whole country and not for political motivation as we’ve seen in the past,” Mr Budde told InnovationAus.com.
“With a more stable government and Paul Fletcher’s experience in the industry, he knows all the problems that we’ve been talking about,” he said.
“I hope he will be able to bring industry together to have serious discussions about cybersecurity, universal services obligation, the TPG and Vodafone merger and how that helps with innovation, and of course the NBN; all sorts the things that have been lingering on.”
RMIT University associate professor in network engineering Mark Gregory added Mr Fletcher’s priority should be to develop a plan for the telecommunications industry post-NBN rollout.
“This should be done in consultation with industry, user groups and advocates, industry and Productivity Commission,” he said.
He also emphasised in a column he wrote for InnovationAus.com last week about how he would like the incoming government to prioritise the future of Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS) levy, Universal Service Obligation (USO) and telecommunications security assurance.
“Telecommunications is the foundation of the global digital economy and national prosperity will become increasingly dependent on access to leading edge telecommunications,” Mr Gregory warned.
“The failure to ensure that Australians have access to an all fibre access network is symptomatic of chaotic government policy that has been founded on false assumptions,” he said.
“An over reliance on 5G for future broadband needs will further cement Australia’s third world broadband status, so this approach to meeting future broadband demand should not be countenanced.
“It is time that the government, industry, consumer groups and experts (including academia) sat down and worked through the challenges facing the telecommunications industry.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) wants to see Mr Fletcher push on with releasing a framework following the Consumer Safeguards Review. Consultations for Part B: Reliability of Services closed in January, but there has yet to be a report released since.
Similarly, ACCAN said it looks forward to the Morrison government’s response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review, and delivery of programs funded in the April Federal Budget.
“The next three years will bring a number of important milestones, challenges and opportunities for telecommunications in Australia,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin.
“From the roll-out of 5G, to the anticipated completion of the NBN network, we look forward to working with Minister Fletcher during this exciting time to achieve better outcomes for consumers.”