Paul Fletcher named Minister of Communications

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 27 May, 2019

Paul Fletcher named Minister of Communications

The former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications is returning to the department to take up the top job.

The newly re-elected Morrison government has appointed Paul Fletcher as Minister of Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. Fletcher, who has been a member of parliament since 2009, was most recently Minister for Families and Social Services.

He has prior experience in the portfolio, having served as Parliamentary Secretary to the then Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull from 2013 until September 2015, when Turnbull mounted his coup and took over as Prime Minister.

During that tenure, Fletcher established the initial implementation of the Mobile Black Spot Program, and helped introduce a number of deregulatory reform measures.

After leaving the role, he served as Minister for Major Projects, Territories, and Local Government in the first Turnbull ministry, and as Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities in the second.

Fletcher also has extensive experience in telecommunications in the private sector, including an eight-year stint as Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at Optus. Fletcher also founded telecommunications industry strategy consultancy Fletchergroup Advisers.

Fletcher will replace Mitch Fifield in the Communications and Arts portfolio. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed he intends to recommend Fifield be appointed as Australia’s next ambassador to the UN.

According to the Prime Minister, leaving the role was Fifield’s decision, as he has elected not to join the current Cabinet.

“I would have been very happy for Mitch to continue to serve in Communications and the Arts. I think Mitch has done an outstanding job in what has been a very difficult task in the nbn,” he said during a press conference.

“As the National Broadband Network nears full rollout and social media becomes an even more prominent front in the fight to keep Australians safe, Paul Fletcher, as Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts brings extensive experience and insight to the task.”

In a statement, Fletcher said he is “deeply honoured” to have been appointed to the role, and noted that a key priority of his term as Communications Minister will be completing the nbn rollout.

“In 2013 we inherited a shambles from Labor with barely 50,000 premises connected to the fixed network. Today, 9.28 million premises around Australia are able to connect to the nbn and almost 5.3 million premises are connected,” he said.

“Another priority will be to continue the Morrison government’s work to make the internet a safer place for the millions of Australians who use it every day.”

As Minister of the Department of Communications and the Arts, Fletcher will lead up a department that acts as the Australian Government’s key advisor on communications. The agency is responsible for regulatory management, program and grants management, as well as engagements with stakeholders including Australia Post, NBN Co, ABC, SBS and regulator ACMA.

Industry body the Communications Alliance has welcomed the appointment, with the body’s CEO, John Stanton, stating that Fletcher’s commercial experience in the sector should be a great help as the government engages in a range of necessary reforms to regulations covering the sector.

“I think Paul recognises, better than most, that a balance needs to be struck between the imposition and costs imposed on industry and consumers by additional layers of regulation, compared with the benefits that can be generated,” he said. “We look forward to working with the new Minister.”

Stanton added that outgoing Minister Mitch Fifield “maintained a strong focus on the interests of telecommunications consumers and on improving coordination and execution in the broadband supply chain” during his time in the role.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has urged the incoming Minister to act to address the incoming challenges and opportunities for the Australian telecommunications sector.

“From the rollout of 5G, to the anticipated completion of the nbn network, we look forward to working with Minister Fletcher during this exciting time to achieve better outcomes for consumers,” ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

She urged Fletcher to continue work on the Consumer Safeguards Review, noting that despite consultations for the second part of the review closing in January, there has yet to be a report released that identifies the way forward.

“Australians have a right to reliable home broadband. However, without a clear framework that identifies time frames for connections, fault repairs and compensation, consumers are left confused as to what protections they have when things go wrong,” she said.

ACCAN also welcomed the opportunity to work with the Minister who initially established the Mobile Black Spot Program, and expressed hope that the program will be continued. Another pressing priority is the need to ensure timely migrations to the nbn, Corbin said.

“With 2020 fast approaching, there are over a million households who are at risk of not making the switch over to the nbn. The Minister and his team need to understand the negative consequences that this will have on everyday Australians who need access to affordable broadband for school, work, and to use government services.”

Another member of Morrison’s ministry who will help shape the government’s technology policy is Senator Jane Hume, who has been moved to the role of Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology. Karen Andrews is also continuing on in the cabinet position of Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

Image courtesy DSS.

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