What competing Australian broadband policies really tell us about how Australian politics and government are changing

Yesterday the Liberal-National Coalition released its broadband policy for Australia, in front of a high-tech set at Sky News, in contrast to the Labor Government’s NBN plan and current rollout.

I’m not going to go into the politics of this announcement, nor the potential economic and social impacts of the differences between the policies in the short and long-term for Australia.
Instead I’d like to focus on what, for me, is the real story. Technology has, for the first time, become a leading consideration in Australian federal politics.
Looking over the last fifty years, topics such as industrial relations, jobs, families, resources, taxes and the environment have all been prominent areas for political debate.
All have had their time in the sun as major electoral issues, while technology issues have largely remained off the main political radar, a minor concern dealt with by individual representatives or Ministers but not capturing the attention of Prime Ministers or entire governments.
Even the internet filtering proposal put forward by the Labor party in 2007 was released quietly only a week before the election, extensively tweaked and adjusted (with at least seven versions over three years) and finally abandoned with some face-saving – yes it became more public than previous technology-related topics and an election issue, but only a minor one, largely dealt with by the responsible Minister rather than a Prime Minister and entire government.
With the NBN and Coalition broadband policy we have seen a very different approach, with technology becoming a major and central electoral issue for the first time. The NBN is a leading topic for the Prime Minister and all of her Ministers, while the Coalition has taken the step to publicly release their rival policy a long way before the election, demonstrating the importance they place on countering the government’s position.
This is unprecedented for what could be considered a technology issue and reflects the growing importance placed on internet access and use by Australian communities, businesses and government itself.
So what does this mean for the future?
The importance placed on broadband, whatever the outcome of the next election, means that politicians and their advisors are having to learn more to talk on technology topics, to discuss areas like broadband, ehealth, elearning, video conferencing and digital content.
Politicians who saw the internet as simply additional channels for communicating messages to electorates are now required to come face-to-face with how their electorates are using these channel and wish to use them in engaging with governments.
This flows to politicians having to learn more about the opportunities for governments to use digital channels to become more efficient, cutting costs, improving communication and engagement and becoming more open, transparent and collaborative.
In fact it is unlikely we’ll see many new politicians enter parliament who don’t have some awareness, appreciation and understanding of the value and importance of technology to Australia.
For a long time people working in and around the technology industry have deplored the low attention played to technology in politics and, besides a few leading lights, the lack of understanding of the potential ability for digital technology to drive Australia’s economy and improve our governance.
I think this time is now coming to an end.
With politicians more aware and engaged with technology issues, due to their higher awareness in the public eye, the implications are that all political parties at all levels of government will need to pay more attention to the impact of technology on society and on government.
They’ll need to begin to think more deeply and holistically about how to leverage technology to improve their communities and their government agencies.
The notion of Government 2.0, or whatever political parties choose to call it, will become a more important part of their policy platform and there will be more focus – and funding – for how agencies go about using digital channels to improve government policy development and operations.
We’re at the end of the beginning for Government 2.0, and at the beginning of an appreciation and understanding that Government 2.0 is simply Government.

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