Former telecommunications and competition lawyer Michelle Rowland will continue in Labor’s shadow communications portfolio, applying pressure on the completion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout and navigating the controversies around the shaping of Australia’s 5G mobile networks.
Rowland will square off against former Optus executive and incoming Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher – who has vowed to deliver “sound policy settings which maximise the contribution” of the telecommunications sector.
Before the election, Rowland stood side by side with senior Labor leaders announcing policies such as relocating SBS headquarters, an $85m boost to Australia’s creative industries, $40m to support Australian content, $2m for the ABC’s Geelong infrastructure, universal provision of audio-description features on broadcast television, and condemnation of the Liberal government’s fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network.
These announcements hint at a diverse range of cornerstone issues that will drive the communications policies of a shadow front bench that will be charged with building the policies to contain the majority Liberal government, and reverse Labor’s catastrophic losses in the 2019 election.
Rowland will also be chiming in on issues such as the Liberal government’s controversial banning of Huawei from participation in Australia’s 5G mobile network rollouts – a policy position that has left every network operator but Telstra scrambling for a cost-effective alternative, and TPG icing its plans to build Australia’s fourth mobile network.
Well-known tech advocate, Ed Husic, ceded his front-bench position to Kristina Kenneally and will serve as Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and Shadow Minister for Human Services – outer shadow ministry roles that could prove complementary in overseeing the government’s continuing My Health Record electronic health record transition.
New Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s rapid promotion of Kristina Keneally to Labor front-bencher – and shadow to Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton – suggests a take-no-prisoners shadow ministry that has a lot of ground to recover.
Among other things, Albanese’s team will be pushing the agenda of Labor – which previously vowed to put “science at the centre of government” – in areas such as skills, research, innovation.
“Taking on these portfolios is an opportunity to enhance our economy, informed by innovation, research and science, while working with industry, unions and a variety of stakeholders,” incoming Shadow Minister for Employment, Industry, Science, Small and Family Business Brendan O’Connor said in a statement.
Innes Willox, chief executive of business organisation Ai Group, noted that O’Connor “already has well-established relations with the business community”.
O’Connor will face off against Michaelia Cash, Liberal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business as she works to deliver the government’s promise of 1.25m new jobs – of which ICT-related positions will be an important part.
Clare O’Neil has moved from the Justice and Financial Services portfolio to assume the mantle of Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work – where she will work to salt Labor’s innovation agenda into a Liberal government policy platform that was slammed by industry when incoming prime minister Scott Morrison dumped the Innovation portfolio altogether.
O’Connor and O’Neil “bring a breadth of experience to the roles”, Professor Emma Johnston, president of peak body Science & Technology Australia, said in weighing up a new shadow ministry that, she said, had “given science, technology and research due prominence”.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten will also be fronting the tech agenda, where as Shadow Minister for Government Services he will be checking the work of Stuart Robert as he undertakes initiatives such as the creation of the ICT-heavy Services Australia agency.