Home Insights Technology, Media and Telecommunications Election Policy Tracker – March 2019
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Technology, Media and Telecommunications Election Policy Tracker – March 2019

The Corrs Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) group’s Election Policy Tracker reports on the various policies, announcements and public statements of the major parties in the areas of telecommunications, media and technology.

This March update focuses on Labor’s positions on communications and digital economy portfolios and on the nbn.

To access our April Election Policy Tracker click here.

To access our May Election Policy Tracker click here.

Labor positions on communications and digital economy portfolios

Encryption

The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 passed on the last sitting day of 2018 with Labor’s support (on the understanding Labor would seek further amendments in the New Year).

Most controversially, the law empowers Federal and State law enforcement and intelligence agencies to require technology companies to provide access to encrypted communications and data (so long as this does not result in ‘systemic weakness’).

Many in the industry have raised fundamental questions about whether the creation of decryption capability is in fact possible without creating systemic weakness. Questions have also been raised about whether intelligence agencies from allied countries may attempt to bypass their own national privacy laws by relying on the Australian regime.

Labor supports the inclusion of a range of measures developed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security[Corrs4] such as:

  • defining ‘systemic weakness’ to clarify the extent of agency powers;
  • a ‘binding assessment’ process to ensure that any requests that have the potential to create a systemic weakness in technology would be subject to review;
  • strengthening the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's oversight powers; and
  • clear authority for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to inspect and gather information on the exercise of powers under the legislation.

A number of Labor MPs, including Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic, have also been vocal about the need to ensure there is judicial oversight mechanism before encrypted data can be accessed by security agencies.

Status: Labor has introduced amendments into the Senate, but these have not gone anywhere to date. A policy on the issue is likely to be announced closer to the election and it is possible the party will pursue a full, independent review if it wins Government.

Sunshine Coast Internet Submarine Fibre Cable

Commitment to spend $5 million to support the establishment of a new international submarine fibre cable link to the Sunshine Coast.

The cable will link to Guam, Japan and an existing cable to Hong Kong, Hawaii and Los Angeles. Once constructed, the cable will be Australia’s fastest telecommunications connection to Asia.

Status: This policy has been announced and is likely to be implemented in Government.

Media

Ownership law While Labor did not support the 2017 changes to the media ownership laws (repealing the ‘75% reach rule’ and the ‘two out of three rule’), the Party has said it will not reverse the changes.

Status: This position has been announced and is unlikely to change in Government.

Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, has said that the media regulatory framework is ‘broken’, and has not kept pace with digitalisation. She has also said that ensuring local content is of great concern.

Reform of the Media Regulatory Framework

A Senate Committee report on Australian content is due to be released on 26 March 2019 and may provide further clarity on Labor’s position (although the date for reporting has been delayed several times and may be further delayed until after the election).

While Michelle Rowland appears to be advocating for ‘converged’ media control and content regulation, it is unclear at this stage whether this would equate to less regulation for traditional media or more for new media.

Status: Comments on this issue have been largely rhetoric, but a policy announcement is possible closer to the election.

ABC funding

Labor has announced it will reverse funding cuts to the ABC, reinstating approximately $83.7 million to the public broadcaster.

Status: This policy has been announced and is likely to be implemented in Government. While there have been some suggestions that the ABC should agree to a review of its charter in exchange for 5 year funding certainty, Labor has previously opposed all attempts to review the ABC charter.

Artificial Intelligence national centre of excellence

Labor has promised $3 million for a new artificial intelligence national centre of excellence, however further details are not available.

Status: This policy has been announced and is likely to be implemented in Government.

eSmart Digital Licence

Labor has committed $2.5 million towards the rollout of a eSmart Digital Licence, a comprehensive online cyber safety resource for year 3 students designed to ensure children understand online risks. While the program will begin as a pilot, it is expected that a full national rollout to every student in Year 3 will commence in 2020.

Status: This policy has been announced and is likely to be implemented in Government.

Ed Husic has said that outsourcing of Digital Services has led to a decrease in internal capacity, and there should be a focus on developing internal capability within the bureaucracy to reduce reliance on external contractors.

Decrease Government outsourcing of IT services and procurement

Status: Comments on this issue have been largely rhetoric, but a policy announcement is possible closer to the election. In practice, this is likely to present real challenges for the public sector which would need to organically develop or ‘insource’ these capabilities.

Labor positions on the nbn

Asset values

While asset values are ultimately to be determined by the application of accounting standards, some nbn retail service providers continue to advocate for a write down in the value of the network. Michelle Rowland has said that Labor would not rule out a write-down in Government. It is possible that Labor views the current Government’s decision to use a multi-technology mix (MTM) as an effective trigger for a write-down. There are indications that Labor, and some industry stakeholders, view the MTM as having reduced the network’s value by as much as $20 billion.

Nbn’s Chairman has estimated the value of the completed network in Senate Estimates as being around $50 billion. Labor has called on nbn to substantiate this claim despite the Auditor-General accepting nbn’s latest financial report.

In practice, a Labor Government may need to either change nbn’s status as a public non-financial corporation or issue a direction if it wants to see lower wholesale prices.

Status: Labor is likely laying the groundwork for a policy announcement closer to the election.

nbn technology mix

Labor has been critical of the Government’s MTM, preferring the fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology which it had committed to when previously in Government.

There has been speculation that Labor would seek to increase the amount of fibre in the network if it wins the election, for example, by adopting more fibre-to-the-curb in areas currently identified for fibre-to-the-node. However, with the remainder of the roll-out well into the planning stages, there are open questions about whether this would be done via changes to the rollout or progressive upgrades once the rollout is complete.

Status: It is likely Labor is laying the groundwork for a policy announcement closer to the election.

nbn Service Guarantee

Labor has announced it will establish an nbn Service Guarantee where nbn will need to pay penalties for underperformance, including missing connection and fault repair timeframes or technician appointments. This policy was announced in June 2018. However, in September 2018, nbn made an enforceable undertaking which has been accepted by the ACCC and includes similar commitments.

Status: This policy has been announced by Labor, however the Enforceable Undertaking has arguably removed any need for implementation.

Pricing

Wholesale prices should be the same throughout the country. In particular, wholesale prices should not be more expensive for those living in regional/remote areas.

Status: This is existing Government policy, so changes are unlikely after the election.

Coordination with other levels of Government

Labor will coordinate federal government policy and federal government will work with states, territories and local government to support connectivity and productivity through fibre-to-the-premise nbn. This is existing Government policy, so changes are unlikely after the election.

Status: nbn currently has a cooperative relationship with different levels of government. 


Authors

NORTH-james-highres_SMALL
James North

Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications


Tags

Technology, Media and Telecommunications

This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.