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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Thank you to the 5G Business Summit for the invitation to provide Labor’s perspective on The Outlook for 5G.
Around the world, much of the focus of policymakers and regulators on 5G at this stage is on:
- Making spectrum available in a timely manner;
- Actively engaging in international standardisation processes;
- Streamlining arrangements to allow mobile carriers to deploy infrastructure more quickly; and
- Reviewing existing telecommunications regulatory arrangements to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Labor supports this important work and applauds the efforts of the industry in Australia in pushing the government to make early deployment of 5G an imminent reality.
In May 2017, Telstra wrote an open letter to the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, to request expedited release of spectrum for 5G services in Australia.
The letter noted that a number of international regulators were already well advanced with the reallocation of one or both of the 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz bands, such as Comreg in Ireland, Ofcom in the UK and the FCC in the United States which made 3.6 GHz spectrum available in 2015.
Since then, the ACMA has undertaken public consultation processes, and the auction for 125 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band is planned for later this year.
A fortnight ago, competition limits were set for mobile providers seeking to access 5G spectrum in the auction.
Whilst such judgments are complex, the imposed limits were a sensible landing.
It’s important to ensure policy settings promote sustainable competition as a means to drive investment in wireless networks that continue to differentiate on price and quality.
Investment – whether that be in infrastructure or application layer – will be critical towards ensuring we reap the full benefits of 5G.
On the industry side, at the Commonwealth Games this year, Optus demonstrated the superfast speeds, low latency and reliability of 5G with mobile streaming of 8K video, Virtual Reality football; and games of Rock, Paper, Scissors between visitors and a robotic hand, among other things.
Just last week Telstra, Intel and Ericsson announced they successfully made the first end-to-end 5G data call over a commercial network, using 3.5 GHz spectrum.
With an eye to competition in the early market for 5G services, discussions are now turning to matters such as how 5G advertising and promotions should be regulated and what the early use cases will be.
Increasingly, discussion will reflect the transformation of the telco industry from the provision of traditional fixed and mobile communications to next-generation available-anywhere, advanced services and applications.
Labor is a party of progress and our perspective on 5G is that this step change in the evolution of mobile connectivity is, ultimately, a tool that will enable progress.
5G can promote fairness and inclusive growth.
Labor believes in making change for the better, through the power of parliamentary democracy, and we share a common faith in Australia’s oldest idea: a fair go all round.
While the radiofrequency spectrum that enables 5G is a finite resource, the reality is that fairness has never been finite.
Our greatest achievements have always come from broadening the meaning of the fair go to maximise returns for our citizens:
- A strong minimum wage, a fair day’s work and a decent pension were once radical notions. Labor made them universal rights.
- The fair go didn’t mean much to Australians for whom getting sick meant going broke, until Labor created Medicare.
- The fair go didn’t mean much to people who worked hard all their lives only to retire poor, until Labor created universal superannuation.
- The fair go didn’t mean much to hundreds of thousands of Australians with a disability and their carers exiled to second-class opportunity, until Labor built the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The potential benefits enabled by 5G open up the opportunity to expand the definition of the fair go – to give it deeper meaning and enlarge the circle of Australian fairness.
And to the clever network engineers in the audience, I am not talking about Jain’s fairness index, or other fairness metrics you use to manage network traffic; I am of course talking about the ethical dimension above those considerations.
5G presents the opportunity to progress on fairness across all aspects of our economy and society – creating new jobs, improving health and education and in tackling disadvantage and inequality, to name just a few key areas of focus for Labor.
Equality is not a zero sum game. The whole history of Labor tells the truth of this.
What’s more, recent research tells us the automation being ushered in by artificial intelligence and robotics – set to accelerate with 5G – is not a zero sum game when it comes to employment either.
Around the world, the evidence indicates that automation does not spell the end of jobs or work as we know it.
First, while machines do have the capability to substitute for workers in some jobs, particularly those that are dangerous or monotonous; humans also have the capacity to change jobs and create new ones.
Second, sometimes jobs performed by robots create new jobs for humans.
Third, humans still have a comparative advantage in occupations where personal service and human interactions are an important part of the job.
As Labor MP Jim Chalmers and Mike Quigley explore in their book: Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age, governments must be focussed on fostering the jobs of tomorrow and preparing the economy and society for the transition.
I firmly believe that, as a growth area in our economy, the creative industries deserve a lot more policy attention; just as the value of HASS – the humanities, arts and social sciences that underpin the creative industries deserve greater recognition in the machine age.
I also subscribe to the view that the STEM agenda for science, technology, engineering and maths needs to be widened to STEAM – that is, STEM complemented with art and design.
While it is only natural and healthy that there be a range of attitudes, aspirations and anxieties about the coming future, the questions now emerging are:
- What will the fair go mean to Australian consumers and citizens in the new economy and society enabled by 5G?
- What will the fair go mean in ‘Australia 5.0’?
- What will it mean for the millions of Australians whose data is collected, analysed and used by government and private industry?
- What return will citizens and consumers get for the use of their data and how will privacy be respected?
- What will the fair go mean for the worker whose employer introduces Augmented Reality to teach new skills, or behavioural monitoring technologies for compliance with codes of conduct?
- What will it mean for millions of Australians subject to decisions made by algorithms on the amount of government assistance they are eligible for?
- What will it mean for the shrinking cohort of workers supporting our ageing population and meeting higher costs of healthcare and pensions?
- Will automation enabled by 5G help maintain production levels, grow GDP, increase individual income and ensure older populations are cared for as we experience labour shortages?
- What will fairness mean for Australian schoolkids competing in an eSports competition, or TAFE and university students learning from the best academics around the globe? How will the latency of the mobile network affect their performance and opportunities?
- What will fairness mean for patients in rural areas who can’t access remote health monitoring tools and face higher travel costs and time to access health care?
- What will it mean to those on the poverty line who don’t have the means to install the smart meters and energy-saving devices that could help them save money on bills?
- What will it mean for an ageing population or people with a disability who lack the means, ability or digital literacy to install voice-activated lighting, heating, watering or security systems in their home, or to utilise assistive technologies on public transport? All things that could make their lives easier, fairer, more equal.
Labor knows that fairness is not self-executing. It doesn’t just fall into our laps.
Workers’ rights weren’t from an employer who woke up on a sunny morning in a generous mood.
We know that for progress to be made toward an inclusive and prosperous world we must work assiduously to that aim – even fight for it if necessary – be it with public and political campaigns, through industrial action or in the law courts.
At the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, the reality is that Australia has not even realised the full benefits of existing technologies such as 3G and 4G, or systems like the World Wide Web, when it comes to progress or promoting fairness and equality in our society.
We haven’t realised the potential of audio description for our blind and vision-impaired citizens on free to air television.
5G technology has transformative potential across economy and society and will, increasingly, be explored by all portfolios of government.
However transformational change or improvements for the better will not necessarily flow from the technology alone.
Having a new technology doesn’t mean there is the will to use it, or the means to overcome barriers to its use.
To realise transformational change, what is needed is a clear vision and strategy, strong and effective leadership and a commitment to implementation on the ground.
Strategy and implementation
So, what of strategy and implementation in Australia?
This conservative government is nearing the end of its fifth year in office, yet still has not produced a coherent vision for Australia’s place in the digital world.
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.
They don’t even have in place an effective Digital Transformation Strategy for the delivery of government services.
On the implementation side, this government has botched just about every big digital program it has touched.
The so-called “innovation Prime Minister” can’t get an online census to work properly, let alone the myGov portal.
Even one of his own Liberal MPs has declared he is opting out of the government’s My Health Record system, so poor is their record on digital transformation.
The digital policy space has languished under this inept government for five long years.
While governments of advanced economies around the world are seizing the moment; powering ahead, implementing their strategies for digital and investing in 5G, all the Turnbull Government has produced are a few paltry announcements, pointing limply at ‘directions’ or undertaking to announce strategies in future.
We should be monitoring and refining the implementation of these critical strategies in Australia – not still wondering where they are.
With the vast resources of government at their disposal, we do expect that the Liberals will get some plans for the digital economy and 5G in place in time for the next Federal election.
But, as the 2030 Strategic Plan for Innovation released earlier this year would indicate, they won’t offer comprehensive reform.
Based on their track record in the Communications Portfolio alone, Labor also expects the government’s approach will be reactive, piecemeal and utterly devoid of values.
Firstly, the NBN.
The Abbott/Turnbull Government’s approach to the NBN is reactive and devoid of a passion for ubiquitous broadband.
In contrast, for Labor the NBN was always a values proposition.
It was about equality of opportunity and true innovation across our nation, now and well into the future, regardless of where you live or work or were born.
Over the course of the past twelve months I have held NBN consultations with consumers and small businesses across the country.
I can tell you, the Australian public is dismayed that the Turnbull Government abandoned Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises NBN under the false pretence that switching to a multi-technology mix would be faster and cheaper.
Measured against the 2013 election promise, the NBN is now $20 billion over budget and nearly four years behind schedule.
It has not been faster or cheaper – on every measure it is slower and more expensive than if we had simply stuck with the original plan. It costs more and does less.
Complaints have soared.
The international evidence is compelling.
Nations such as New Zealand, the US and UK have reduced the cost per premises of deploying fibre by between 40 and 50 per cent.
They didn’t achieve this through magic – they achieved this by implementing business as usual efficiency improvements.
In comparison, the current NBN rollout has seen the cost per premises of HFC increase by 54 per cent, and the cost of copper remediation has increase by a factor of ten.
Not only has this abandonment of first-rate digital infrastructure undermined our economic competitiveness, it undermines fairness when the quality of your broadband connection depends on your postcode.
While governments overseas are investing in 5G, the Turnbull Government is investing in more copper.
The Liberal Government continues to spend hundreds and millions of taxpayers dollars on the purchase of new copper — and is consumed by the prospect of resurrecting coal — meanwhile many countries in the Asia Pacific region already have all-fibre broadband networks and are investing heavily in 5G.
The absence of a strategy or vision could not be more stark.
Secondly, digital inclusion.
In government, Labor delivered and then updated the National Digital Economy Strategy – setting the goal of Australia becoming a leading digital economy and laying out the roadmap for delivering Labor’s 2020 vision.
This strategy prioritised ‘Digital skills’, second only to ‘Infrastructure’ as one of the key enablers of a leading digital economy. It noted the need for a comprehensive approach to build digital literacy.
But in the hands of this Liberal Government, that Strategy has been neglected, so much so that the last update did not make any reference to digital skills or literacy or include any sort of roadmap or plan.
Yet another example of this conservative government actively working against a strategy put in place by Labor to advance our nation.
Late last year, the Turnbull Government committed to launch its own Digital Economy Strategy “early next year” and undertook consultation.
But we are now into the second half of 2018 and today there’s still no sign of that strategy.
Meanwhile, each year the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, undertaken by Telstra, RMIT and Roy Morgan, shows that a substantial digital divide exists in Australia – and that the gap between digitally included and excluded Australians is widening.
It is imperative we work to close that gap, particularly as technology evolves, otherwise our ageing, Indigenous and Australians with a disability will fall even further behind.
Thirdly, interactive games.
The interactive videogame industry shows enormous promise as an area for future work in Australia, as well as in fostering innovation, creativity, access and inclusion across our economy and society.
Yet the Liberal Government has actively undermined and neglected this sector by stripping the government funding initiated by Labor, excluding the sector from access to support programs and sitting on its response to the findings of a Senate inquiry into the future of the industry.
The government response, when it finally came, was lacklustre at best.
Game design and methodologies can be used to break down the silos between industry verticals and engage people in all manner of content.
“Serious games” are used in areas as diverse as defence, education, workplaces and health to assist with everything from training, to monitoring medical conditions and rehabilitation of everyday Australians.
For example, Games 4 Hearoes is a digital auditory training platform that uses gamification to help those with hearing loss, specifically those with a cochlear implant, to learn new sounds.
When someone receives a cochlear implant, they don’t automatically enjoy normal hearing. Recipients often need to learn how to hear and understand auditory feedback which this game delivers in an entertaining way.
5G offers a range of new possibilities with interactive games.
The potential for ‘wearables’, such as glasses with integrated displays, opens up with 5G because the network has the capacity to meet the high processing requirements of streaming games and Augmented Reality, for example.
The low latency means children removed from the classroom by illness or disability might participate physically in class activities in real time.
Already, children around the world, including in Australia as part of the Missing School trial, experience school from home via telepresence robots.
Telepresence allows children who are away from school for illness or injury to be seen and heard in their classrooms, and learn from their teachers with their classmates.
Indeed, the National Museum of Australia conducts interactive guided tours with students via mobile telepresence robots looking through high-definition panoramic cameras.
5G has the potential to combine tactile internet and Virtual Reality to remove the physical location constraint, facilitate real time interactions and facilitate the sharing of resources between large numbers of students which will make learning easier for students with special needs.
A report out of the recent M-Enabling Summit 2018 in Washington DC asked whether 5G will be the “miracle solution for accessibility”.
Concluding that it won’t – not immediately at least – the report praised the potential of 5G for seniors and people with a disability.
It noted that immediate benefits will be enhanced call clarity, high-definition voice and real-time text – features that assist not only the hard-of-hearing or deaf communities, and older users, but everyone using mobile telecommunications.
Similarly the high network speed will improve video conferences and communication in sign language, as well as facilitate telecommuting for a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
It noted that personal assistants in devices, powered by artificial intelligence, can already today read and send text messages, make emergency calls and perform numerous other tasks through vocal prompts – and that they are bound to get even better.
And, it noted that eventually, autonomous vehicles promise to facilitate mobility for seniors and people with a disability.
The report concludes with the practical reality that, in order to unlock this great potential, applications and services must be implemented accessibly.
Similarly, another report on mobile accessibility, artificial intelligence and smart cities noted that, in time, IoT sensors across cities and real time information will render our cities smarter and hopefully more accessible.
But to achieve this, it isn’t sufficient just to consult with people with a disability; rather, they must be involved in the design and development of such products and services because they will build in accessibility from the beginning in a way we could never think of otherwise.
As has been shown time and time again – accessibility measures end up benefitting the broader population. Captioning for hearing-impaired and deaf people is utilised for general consumption at airports, in pubs and clubs, and in gyms, for example.
Something made for people with disability is now mainstream.
The National Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020 was a seminal Labor reform, introduced ahead of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
A vision for Australia, it sets out six key outcome areas against which our progress as a society can be measured in meeting our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It’s through this Strategy that we strive to foster an inclusive and welcoming society.
Under the Strategy, Australia has committed to provide three implementation reports and three progress reports, and it has committed to evaluate our progress and to look beyond 2020 to develop a new national disability framework.
But, as with other Strategies, the record of the conservative Government on the National Disability Strategy has been characterised by neglect and delay.
Through the Senate Estimates process, Labor Senator Carol Brown, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers, has established that the government is well overdue in providing even the second progress report, on which discussions commenced in 2016, and that work on a Future NDS Framework beyond 2020 is lagging behind schedule, given 2020 is less than 18 months away.
Again, no vision, no strategy, poor implementation and no values from this Liberal Government.
At another forum in Sydney today, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel is delivering a speech on the role of human rights in a new age of technology.
In his op-ed on the impact of Artificial Intelligence published on the weekend, Dr Finkel stated that the question now before us is: “What kind of society do we want to be?”
Labor has a clear idea of the prosperous, fair and inclusive Australia we want to shape as the worlds of 5G, artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things come closer together.
We are actively engaged in the development of policy that advances its benefits as well as protecting the rights of workers – complex but necessary questions to grapple with.
In contrast, this conservative government has shown time and again that they simply don’t get it when it comes to fairness, innovation or the future of work in our country – be it their decision to stymie the NBN, to undermine the Digital Economy Strategy, or to cut support for interactive games development.
5G presents enormous opportunity to make Australia a better place, but you need much more than slogans on ‘innovation’ to realise the benefits of this technology.
For starters, you need strong leadership, a vision of a better Australia, and a coherent strategy to make it happen – none of which the Liberal Government has managed to offer.
Technology can absolutely be used to increase economic and social inclusion – but also by design or accident create inequality.
Increasingly, we understand that in the world shaped by the fourth industrial revolution – powered ever more so by data, artificial intelligence and automation, with websites and apps at the interface – to make real progress we must promote fairness and equality by design, from the outset.
But neither technology alone or acknowledging the logic of universal design is enough.
We need 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 vulnerable and excluded.
The year 2020 is less than a year and a half away.
We need comprehensive plans that look to 2030 and beyond to guide Australia’s transition to an economy and society that is prosperous and fair in a world enabled by 5G.
Realising the potential of 5G will not happen by accident. Rather than a policy void, or piecemeal, reactive plans that tinker at the edges, we need a fair go by design. And that is Labor’s agenda.