Labor’s Rowland assails government over lack of digital economy strategy

Shadow communications minister calls for digital economy strategy that will “promote fairness and equality by design”

Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland has taken aim at the government over what she argues is a piecemeal and lacklustre approach to developing a digital economy strategy.

“This conservative government is nearing the end of its fifth year in office yet it has still not produced a coherent vision for Australia’s place in the digital world,” the Labor MP told the 5G Business Summit in Sydney.

“In five years, the Liberals have utterly failed to deliver a joined up 5G strategy, digital economy strategy or a digital inclusion strategy to call their own,” Rowland argued. “They don’t even have in place an effective digital transformation strategy for the delivery of government services.”

The government last year committed to releasing a national digital economy strategy in 2018. A public consultation process was completed in November. A 5G directions paper was released in October.

When it comes to its digital transformation efforts, the government “has botched just about every big digital program it’s touched,” Rowland said.  “The so-called innovation prime minister can’t get an online Census to work properly, let alone the MyGov portal.”

The government’s technology record was the last month the subject of a withering report from the Senate's Finance and Public Administration References Committee. That report argued the government “has not demonstrated that it has the political will to drive digital transformation”.

When it comes to developing a comprehensive digital economy strategy, the government has so produced only “paltry announcements, pointing limply at directions or undertaking to announce strategies in future,” Rowland said.

“We should be monitoring and refining the implementation of these strategies in Australia, not wondering where they are. With the vast resources of government at their disposal, we do expect the Liberals will get some plans for the digital economy and 5G in place before the next federal election.” However, the Labor MP said she doesn’t believe they will offer “comprehensive reform.”

Rowland called for “comprehensive, joined up strategies for the digital economy inclusive of 5G, founded on a clear vision of the fair and equal society we want to be.”

“We also need effective implementation of those strategies so that we realise the benefits of the digital age across the general population as well as the vulnerable and excluded,” she told the conference.