Australia is currently facing its first hung Parliament since the Menzies Government in 1940. Three days after the election it is not clear which major party will form the next government, with the Australian Public Service continuing to operate under caretaker conventions until the next government is appointed.
Intermedium Managing Director Judy Hurditch says this uncertainty continues to impact the federal government ICT market. “The lack of clear election outcome means that key decision-making will continue to be on hold until a result is known,” she said.
But even beyond the caretaker period there may be implications of a hung Parliament on ICT policy. “Whether it is Labor or the Coalition that eventually forms government, a hung Parliament would make it very difficult for any new, large-scale IT projects requiring significant budget funding, or with a significant impact on the public to get the go ahead, ” Ms Hurditch said.
“There would have to be consensus among a broad range of members in the House and Senate for any underpinning policy to be passed. Considering the various and competing positions on key areas of ICT policy, this cooperation seems unlikely with the possible exception of telecommunications projects”.
Broadband policy is emerging as one of the factors which will determine the formation of a minority government. Both major parties are currently courting the three independents in the House of Representatives – Bob Katter (Kennedy, QLD), Tony Windsor (New England, NSW) and Rob Oakeshott (Lyne, NSW) – and the one Greens MP (Adam Bandt, Melbourne).
The three independents are former members of the National Party, but are widely reported to have little remaining allegiance to the Coalition. Each has indicated that they are more supportive of Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN) than the Coalition’s alternative broadband policy. The Greens have also indicated that they support the NBN.
On the ABC’s 7:30 Report program on Sunday 22 August, Tony Windsor said that the NBN “and how it relates to health and education and business services in the long-term” is one of the most important policies for his constituents and will factor heavily in his decision over coming days and weeks.
Rob Oakeshott first flagged broadband as a priority in his maiden speech to Parliament in 1998. On March 31 2009 Oakeshott issued a statement in which he described the NBN as “an important step towards social equality for Mid-North Coast residents still lumbered with dial-up technology”.
Liberal leader Tony Abbott told the Sydney Morning Herald that he would “not rule out improving his broadband policy”. However, Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb has denied the possibility and emphasised the benefits of the Coalition broadband policy for rural Australia. This disparity in the Coalition’s approach has only increased uncertainty for the government ICT market.
While the immediate political future remains unclear, it appears certain that the increased leverage of the country independents will see greater investment in rural and regional Australia. This focus will have an impact on the shape of telecommunications policy and telco- enabled projects over the term of the next government.