Thank you Stephen Conroy

It is sad to see Senator Conroy leaving his position in this way, but that is the reality of politics. Of course, I would have preferred him to have taken the NBN through the election campaign as he is by far the most knowledgeable politician in the government on the issue.

Nevertheless the achievements of this Minister have been nothing less than remarkable. This has been recognised internationally, with awards that he received for his vision and his work on the NBN, and his appointment as a Commissioner of UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

I met Stephen Conroy for the first time in 2005, when he attended a conference I was addressing in Adelaide. He came to me after my presentation and indicated his interest and support for the concept of fast broadband for its social and economic benefits.

We continued our discussions and as a result of his vision and hard work the country is now building a national broadband network, and with contracts in place for NBN connections for approximately half of the population, the future of the NBN is safe. The Coalition has also warmed to the plan and there is now bipartisan support for the NBN.

This is an enormous achievement.

Of course we will have to wait and see what changes the Coalition will implement if it wins the elections but I am quietly optimistic.

The fact that the first release sites are now seeing NBN uptake of over 50%-60% is also a clear indication that Australian people do like the service. There has been consistent support of between 70%-80% from Australian consumers and businesses and the take-up is now backing this up.

Perhaps even more important are the first results showing real business outcomes in, for example, Armidale, the first city in Australia to be fully connected to the NBN. Only today a CSIRO report entitled Smart Farming: leveraging the impact of broadband and the digital economy reports on developments in Armidale. It stated that initial studies indicate the NBN broadband tools can help increase farming productivity in crop and pasture yields by targeting the use of water and fertilisers – as well as in livestock production, through better rotation of animals and pastures.

Furthermore, in that same report it is stated that cotton-growers using the soil moisture sensors linked to the NBN almost doubled their yields per megalitre of water when they varied irrigation rates according to the localised needs of the soil and plants, rather than taking the one-size-fits-all approach for a whole field.

Last year AGL indicated that winning the contract for a solar farm in western NSW was to a large extent due to the availability of the NBN in that region.

In all, there are now close to a hundred projects around e-health, e-education, e-government, e-commerce, smart farms, smart grids and smart homes, as well as e-commerce projects for SMEs. And increasingly we see that those who are promoting the social and economic benefits of the NBN come from industries and institutions that are using the NBN to deliver services. This is different from the usual advocates, who come from inside the industry. The NBN is no longer the story – it is creating its own stories.

Obviously there is nobody in the ALP who is as knowledgeable about the NBN as Stephen Conroy and it will be interesting to see who takes over his position. On the positive side, however, the NBN is now so far advanced that this no longer a critical issue, The NBN can stand on its own. Nevertheless, the NBN being the Labor government’s flagship achievement, it will play a key role in the election campaign; so the position of the new Minister for Broadband will remain a critical one for the ALP, but the emphasis will now have to be on somebody with excellent communication skills to promote the benefits of the NBN to the voters. There won’t be many ministers who will have as great a legacy to look back on as Stephen Conroy.

Paul Budde

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