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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7827

National Broadband Network


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (14:06): My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Can the minister provide advice on initiatives the government is taking to ensure the Australian business community is addressing the opportunities and challenges arising from the digital age?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:07): I thank the good senator for his question and for his interest in the impact of the digital age on Australian society and our economy. The digital revolution is transforming every part of the economy—24,000 users and growing every single day. No sector is immune from these changes. Deloittes have estimated the impacts of these changes in their recent report Digital disruption: short fuse, big bang? and they noted that the digital economy is 'changing the very nature of consumption, competition and how markets work'. They went on to say:

More profoundly, it is also driving a significant shift in the balance of power between organisations and individuals.

Last Friday the Prime Minister convened a forum with over 40 business leaders from across the economy, together with Minister Shorten and myself. We heard from successful new digital enterprises like bikeexchange and Shoes of Prey. We heard how large existing businesses like Australia Post, the Commonwealth Bank and Woolworths are changing their businesses. The Prime Minister has committed to a number of initiatives as a consequence of the reform and in particular I have been asked to develop a national cloud computing strategy. The Prime Minister also announced the development of a digital white paper. This will broaden the work undertaken from the cyber white paper and bring this together with the National Digital Economy Strategy.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: I note some of the interjections from those opposite. When we talk about a cloud— (Time expired)



Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (14:09): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister provide advice to the Senate on how the digital economy is impacting regional Australia?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:09): As I was saying, in this chamber we talk about a cloud strategy and those opposite try to look outside to see if it is raining, because they do not have a clue. At the forum we heard about the positive impact of the digital age on regional Australia. Take Birdsnest, a retail fashion business started by Jane Cay, a former IT worker who in her words married a farmer and, starting from a traditional store, she now has 93 per cent of her sales online and she employs 70 people in the town of Cooma. Medibank Private told the forum of their experience in offering virtual services. They have discovered a new regional health workforce that can be accessed online. And these are just two examples of how the digital age is transforming— (Time expired)


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister provide any details of economic activity in regional Australia that will benefit from the National Broadband Network?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:10): On Monday I had the great pleasure to visit Armidale in New South Wales.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: Yes, that is where I was. I met with local businesses preparing to use the NBN to expand their businesses into new markets and offer better service to their customers. I also visited the University of New England's smart farm in using NBN fixed wireless to boost productivity for farmers.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator CONROY: Farmers can interact with experts via videoconference, share with them rich data on climate—

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator CONROY: You are a moron.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Conroy, withdraw that, please.

Senator CONROY: I withdraw, Mr President; I apologise. I launched construction of the Tablelands Clinical School. This $12.5 million facility will enable students to use the NBN to learn from the world's leading medical experts at the University of California, Irvine, and other facilities around the— (Time expired)