In its death throes, perhaps Turnbull’s last significant decision had been a limp capitulation to the advice of Australia’s intelligence agencies, who recommended banning Huawei Technologies from tendering for contracts in faster, more efficient mobile technology. The move caps off a legacy of Turnbull’s efforts to, if nothing else, at least lift the technology sector into the national conversation.
The Huawei decision, although expected, was oddly timed in the midst of the Liberal Party’s bloody internal Game of Thrones and was delivered by acting Home Affairs Minister (and now Prime Minister) Scott Morrison. It makes a mockery of Turnbull’s recent positive speech about the Australia-China relationship which was squarely centred on technology — education, innovation and cooperation — and designed to help improving the increasingly tense relationship between the two countries.
Seen as a whole, Turnbull’s overarching efforts in technology would be graded as a C-.
Turnbull’s NBN revamp, which was supposed to save the Australian taxpayer tens of billions of dollars, was forced to borrow $19 billion to complete its rollout. Then there’s Turbull’s signature National Infrastructure and Science Agenda (NISA), a rare moment when he delivered policy with clear personal passion, which would help to elevate a technology focus into the mainstream via a raft of initiatives that nevertheless lacked funding commitments.
NISA has since evaporated from technology conversations, slipping into the “now you see me now you don’t” basket of Australian political policy.
Meanwhile, Turnbull continued Canberra’s history of craven collusion with the slowly dying free-to-air TV industry, over spectrum allocation. And who can forget the number of stunning failures in the government’s much-hyped digital delivery program: lead first by the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 census incompetence — where its website crashed during due to heavy demand — and, more recently, the recent MyHealth fiasco. All of this has been capped off by Turnbull’s failure to deliver the fourth overhaul of the Digital Economic Strategy, initially released in 2011 with updates in 2013 and 2016. The fourth update, slated for “early 2018”, has continued to be pushed back.
Still, ignoring the disasters, Turnbull has at least fought to bring technology into mainstream politics. Failure is part and parcel of the tech journey and Turnbull has had more than he would have wanted. It’s unlikely that the next leader will want to make as much of it. And this, more than anything, would be very problematic for Australia’s increasingly uncertain future.