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Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Speech to CommsDay Melbourne Congress 2015

14 October 2015

CommsDay Melbourne Congress 2015 Via video message 

Introduction

Good morning.

It's a pleasure to be addressing my first CommsDay event as Minister for Communications, and I want to thank and commend Grahame Lynch and the CommsDay team for their ongoing coverage and commentary on Australia's diverse telco sector.

I know that my portfolio predecessors Malcolm and Paul were avid CommsDay readers and participants at each of the CommsDay Congress events.

Indeed Malcolm regularly used CommsDay summits for his headland policy speeches both in Opposition and as Minister.

Regrettably I cannot join you all today as the Parliament is sitting, but I plan to make engaging with you – the industry leaders – a priority.

The last few weeks

We have a new Prime Minister who knows the sector well and a forward-looking policy agenda in which Australia's telecommunications industry – as a key enabler of innovation – will be central.

When Malcolm as Prime Minister took the decision to entrust his old portfolio to me I thought – 'oh well, no pressure: taking over Australia's largest, most complex infrastructure project at a critical juncture as three new technologies are being integrated and with a regulatory environment in need of renovation.'

But if this past week is anything to go by, this will be one of the most rewarding and exhilarating roles in the Turnbull Government.

Initial thoughts on the portfolio

As some of you may know, I have represented the Communications portfolio in the Senate for the past two years, and have witnessed at close hand the transformation of the nbn project; the introduction of the much-lauded Mobile Black Spot Programme; the establishment of a Digital Transformation Office; and the unwinding of years' worth of cumbersome red tape and regulation which has been weighing down telecommunications and many other productive Australian industries.

I am committed to building on this success.

In the short time I've spent in this role I have met with the Prime Minister, senior officials from my new Department, portfolio agency heads, and a number of industry stakeholders.

I have had a brief opportunity to see the field work being done to build the nbn, and I've received a preliminary briefing from Bill Morrow on the incredible complexity of this project and the key role industry partners will play in making nine million premises 'ready for service' within three years.

I've also met with representatives of the arts community — another important part of my new role.

Now I realise there's nothing shoddier than a newly-minted Minister asserting hard-line judgements to a roomful of industry experts, so instead I would simply like to place my role and that of this portfolio in the context of the new Turnbull Government's agenda.

I see the communications portfolio first and foremost as an economic one, with profound opportunities to drive Australia's future productivity and growth.

Clearly, the Prime Minister's call for Australia to become an agile and innovative high-wage economy stems from the opportunities and challenges he has identified as inherent to rapid technological change.

Ubiquitous, high-speed broadband delivered in a timely and cost-efficient way will bring countless benefits to Australians and therefore remains a central plank of this Government's future agenda. However, this project's risks continue to require careful management.

Overhauling the way government delivers services, to ensure people can get the information they need, when they need it, will also unleash productivity gains for the public sector and most importantly, make it easier for individuals to transact their business.

And as the exhaustive Vertigan cost-benefit analysis and review of regulation found, regulatory arrangements that remain fixed will quickly become redundant in a sector such as telecommunications that is undergoing widespread change.

Our challenge will be to make changes that are transparent, fair and    pro-competition. Such a framework will be vital to driving innovation in products and services to deliver greater consumer choice.

There is a similar sense of seismic change underpinning the media reform debate in Australia.

Consumers are increasingly king, with huge changes occurring in how people access content. We as a government can seek to set rules or change them, but what will ultimately drive what we do is what consumers want.

I am absolutely delighted to be leading a portfolio that is central to the Government's innovation agenda.

There are also some immediate priorities I will focus on:

National Broadband Network

My top priority is to continue working with the nbn board and management to give every Australian access to high-speed broadband as soon as possible.

And we're in a particularly exciting phase of the project right now.

The first commercial fibre-to-the-node services are just coming on-stream and I look forward to dispelling the myths around this technology in the months ahead as orders start flowing in.

And while the top-class management team now in place at nbn has delivered the most thorough and transparent operational and financial forecasts yet in their 2016 Corporate Plan, these projections are nonetheless underpinned by some risks and challenges.

Critical assumptions on scope, cost and timing are based on high level estimations of activities that will still need to be proved in practice. I am heartened by the calibre of nbn's strategic leadership in Ziggy and Bill but as Bill told me recently, this is his seventh gig as a CEO and by far his toughest.

So I will be continuing in my predecessor's footsteps, working closely with NBN Co to meet these challenges and ensure that these services are available to Australians as soon as possible.

Mobile Black Spot Programme

Another focus for me is continuing Paul's work in addressing the deficit in mobile coverage in rural and regional Australia.

The Government's $100 million investment under round one of the Mobile Black Spot Programme will deliver 499 new or upgraded mobile base stations across the country.

However, while the outcomes of Round 1 of the Programme far exceeded expectations, there will still be many communities with poor or no mobile coverage.

That is why the Government has announced it will invest a further $60 million in the programme, to be available from mid-next year.

Not only will this be a boost economically and socially for hundreds of small communities, improving mobile coverage also has important public safety benefits, particularly for areas that are prone to natural disasters.

Digital Government

Together with the Prime Minister, I will also be progressing the Digital Government agenda.

As a technologically sophisticated nation, Australians expect to be able to access quality government services at any time, from any device.

And while some agencies have made significant progress on this front, we do need a consistent and coordinated, whole-of-government approach to service delivery.

In my previous role, I saw first hand how important it is to make government services more convenient and accessible.

For this reason, I'm excited to be working with the Prime Minister and the DTO to make the Government's digital channels simple, clear, intuitive and above all, preferred by users.

Conclusion

Whether we're talking about high-speed broadband, expanding mobile coverage or digital government, my focus will be on driving productivity, innovation and economic growth that delivers tangible social benefits.

This is an incredibly exciting portfolio and I'm keen to maximise the many opportunities that lie before us.

In particular I will be drawing on your insights in the weeks and months ahead through individual meetings and the many valuable industry forums such as this one.

The Prime Minister has made it clear there will be a change in the way policy is formed and implemented at the federal level and as a member of Cabinet I intend to continue Malcolm's collaborative approach within the Communications and Arts portfolios.

Once again, thank you to Graham and the CommsDay team for hosting today's conference and I look forward to future meetings with many of you where our roles will be reversed – you will be doing the talking and I will be listening.

Thank you.

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