22 February 2023

Address at the National 'Innovate with NBN' Awards Ceremony, Canberra

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, pay my respects to their elders, and commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

I also pass on apologies from Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, who would have loved to be with you this evening.

I was 11 years old when I bought my first computer. It was early‑1984, and the machine was an Aquarius. It had rubber keys, 3.5 kilobytes of memory, and connected to an old black and white television. I used it to write simple programs in the BASIC language.

One weekend, I spent all day writing my own version of ‘Space Invaders’. Unfortunately, I was overly ambitious with the size of the program, and used the entire memory capacity. As a result, when I tried to save it to the cassette drive, the computer crashed. I still remember watching the tape turning and turning, as I slowly realised I’d lost everything.

Scarred by this experience, I decided that I needed more computing power. I returned the Aquarius to the shop, and bought a VIC‑20, with a whopping 5 kilobytes of memory. At about this time, Sydney Morning Herald computer editor Gareth Powell said that there was no advantage to any program in going beyond 16 kilobytes of memory.

The fact is, we’re not particularly good at forecasting where technology will take us. The first emails that I sent were when I was backpacking in Scotland in 1996. My father had an email address, but I didn’t. So I sent the emails from the Edinburgh cybercafe’s generic email account, and my dad replied to that account. The next day, I popped into the cybercafe, and picked up the printout of my father’s reply. This was state of the art communication for 1996.

In fact, most of us thought that email would be like the telegrams that previous generations had used, just faster and cheaper. I didn’t imagine at the time I sent those first emails that the technology would carry anything other than text. Today, photos and video comprise most of the traffic flowing around the globe. Since I started speaking, an email bigger than 16 kilobytes has probably lobbed into my inbox.

The internet is what economists call a general purpose technology. Like the steam engine and electricity, general purpose technologies take time to have an effect. It was decades after the invention of the steam engine that the first railway lines were laid down. It took many years before electricity led to factories being revamped to take advantage of the new technology.

So in the short‑term, general purpose technologies tend to underperform our expectations. But in the long‑term, general purpose technologies tend to outperform our expectations.

When Labor founded the NBN, some in parliament derided it. They couldn’t imagine it as being anything more than a way getting faster access to YouTube and Facebook. Unfortunately, this just repeats the same mistake as previous decades: failing to imagine how a new technology will transform life and work.

Our mission in creating the NBN was to provide fast, reliable and affordable broadband to all Australians, including those living in the most remote places.

We understood that we were building not just for today, but for the future. And we understood that the NBN could be transformative for small businesses, particularly in rural and regional areas that had been poorly served by the internet.

The pandemic has accelerated the role that digital technologies play in our lives. According to one survey, the typical Australian worker would like to work from home two days a week (the survey also finds that the typical employer would like their staff to work from home one day a week, but that’s another matter).

Working from home presents the potential for huge time savings. Another study found that working from home saves the average Australian worker 78 minutes of commuting per day. What do people do with this extra time? The study found that it breaks down as 34 minutes more paid work, 26 minutes more leisure, 11 minutes more chores and shopping, and 7 minutes more caregiving.

Work is changing, and the NBN is essential to this transformation.

My party has always been passionate about improving the NBN.

We are investing $2.4 billion over four years to provide an additional 1.5 million fibre to the node premises with full‑fibre access and speeds of up to one gigabit per second.

As a result of the Government’s investment, 90 per cent of homes in the NBN fixed‑line footprint will have access to gigabit speeds by late 2025.

For those outside the fixed‑line footprint, Government has provided NBN Co with a grant of $480 million to upgrade its fixed wireless services, which will also benefit satellite users. This will be a game changer for many in regional areas.

NBN Co is also supporting businesses via the construction of Business Fibre Zones which are being rolled out to over 300 locations across the country, more than 140 of which are in regional Australia.

We have all seen over the last few years how digital technologies can be used to deliver products and services faster, respond to changing consumer demands, and welcome customers who want to buy online. Last year, Minister for Small Business Julie Collins, announced the second round of the Digital Solutions - Australian Small Business Advisory Services program. The program helps businesses recognise and grasp the opportunities that going online can offer, so they can survive and grow.

While the Government is committed to helping small businesses adopt and harness digital economy opportunities, we are also ensuring that digital landscape is cyber secure for both businesses and their customers

The Government is deeply concerned about recent data breaches and the losses small businesses are incurring from cyber‑attacks, these breaches are a timely reminder of the need for all Australian businesses to be vigilant when it comes to cyber security

Late last year, Minister O'Neil announced that the Government has appointed an Expert Advisory Board to begin developing Australia's new Cyber Security Strategy

The development of the 2023‑2030 Australian Cyber Security Strategy will outline the Government's long‑term vision for the future of Australian cyber security, and the concrete steps required to get there.

Tonight, we celebrate some of those who are innovating with the NBN – showing us the potential of this general purpose technology.

‘Innovate with NBN’ is a grants program that aims to recognise and highlight individuals, businesses, or organisations across regional Australia doing amazing things leveraging the NBN.

There are seven categories: Arts, Health, Education, Agriculture, Tourism, Women in Business and Indigenous Business.

Each category winner receives $15,000 and the overall winner receives an additional $20,000 in prize money.

The winners are innovators or entrepreneurs inspiring others in the community. They are champions of digital adoption. They are advocates of supporting regional businesses. And they are continuing to facilitate the digital capabilities and benefits of the NBN.

Now, more than ever, the Government recognises the benefits of small business utilising digital technologies and how they can help them navigate economic challenges.

We’ve come a long way from the days of computers with cassette drives and 3.5 kilobytes of memory. And while none of us knows what the future holds, it’s a fair bet that the internet of 40 years time will be as different from the internet of today as my little old Aquarius machine is from the NBN.

I congratulate the winners tonight and look forward to hearing about the innovative ways they are using the NBN to shape a better future.