The evolution of Australia’s economy will bring a constant stream of new challenges. As a technology journalist, over the last 12 months, there have been three key areas fundamentally shaping this country that I and others have constantly written about, and their importance will only continue to rise.
These are issues that affect our civil liberties, that will help us or hinder us when competing on the global stage, and will affect every Australian, no matter where you live or what you do.
The backbone is the NBN, a topic that has made headlines for years now, and mostly for the wrong reasons. It’s a project so critical to our economic future, yet politicians on both sides are using it as a pawn to grab votes. We’ve changed policies once, away from a full fibre roll out to a “multi-technology mix” from the Coalition which was allegedly meant to be cheaper, with only negligible speed differences.
But several leaks, and many first hand accounts, have shown problems right throughout the project. There have been government payouts to certain big telcos in the country that were a lot higher than first anticipated. As a result of policy changes, the rollout has been significantly delayed, leaving Australia’s technology infrastructure continuing to trail that of its global peers.
The Coalition and its supporters are fine to acknowledge the importance of a national broadband network, but not so much the need for a future-proof, full fibre attack. There are arguments thrown around that it’s simply just for faster movie downloads and for not much else, and that’s completely untrue.
Even if you look at that argument and how the NBN will be used for entertainment, the economic benefits are huge. It creates opportunity for more multinational companies to enter Australia, where they will generate economic activity and pay increasing taxes on their revenues. The vastly superior upload speeds allow Australian artists to create content on platforms such as YouTube for others to enjoy.
The wider economic benefits are huge too: allowing the development of e-commerce, cloud computing for businesses of all sizes, and importantly for those living in rural areas, and telehealth to help doctors treat patients in remote areas.
It also opens up the ability for Australia to be a world leader in the tech startup world.
And that needs real investment – the second big challenge. I spoke to Tien Tzuo, the founder of billion-dollar Silicon Valley company Zuora earlier this week where he reiterated that the Australian consumer and Australian companies are ahead of many parts of the world when it comes to digital adoption.
And with the right infrastructure and support, he believes Australia’s next multibillion dollar company can come from our tech scene.
“What I’d love to see in Sydney is a stronger local VC community,” he said.
“It’s easy for the New York and Bay area VCs to set up an office in London, but Sydney has the unfortunate aspect of just being really far away. It’s still really hard for Australian companies to find capital.”
But most importantly, for an Australian startup to succeed, Tzuo says they need to have lots of tenacity, grit and patience. And of course, pointing to Atlassian as a company possessing all three of those traits.
Then there is data retention.
As of October last year, every phone call you make, text message you send and email you write will be tracked by the government under a new metadata retention scheme.
This scheme is supposedly being implemented to protect the country against organised crime and terrorism, but there have been well-aired questions about its impact on citizens’ privacy.
It’s a vague program, with very little transparency on what data will really be collected. George Brandis famously struggled to explain it, exposing the complexity of the regime in an embarrassing way.
But the general idea is that internet and mobile service providers will be required to hold onto your metadata for two years.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year justified the program by pointing to its national security benefits.
“The important thing here is to give us the tools that we need to ensure that people who are a serious threat to our country are appropriately dealt with, people who are ready to engage in horrific terrorist activity and stating an intention in many cases to engage in mass casualty terrorist activities, can be dealt with in this country,” he said.
These rules are just getting stricter.
American whistleblower Edward Snowden chimed in with his thoughts on the scheme last year too, claiming a data retention scheme would not stop another terrorist attack.
“They’re not going to stop the next attacks either,” he said. “Because they’re not public safety programs. They’re spying programs.”
These are all fundamental issues in Australia. All of which will change the face of the country.