Transcript of Opening Remarks and Question & Answer Session with Telework Congress 2012
MON 12 NOVEMBER 2012
Canberra (via TelePresence)
PM: We are living in what I term the Asian Century.
It’s a time in which our economy has shown to be a resilient one.
When we compare ourselves with what’s happening around the world, what we see is our economy being resilient.
We’ve got low unemployment, strong public finances, good growth and the list goes on.
But we’re only going to seize the opportunities of this century of change if we’re prepared for it and if we make the right decisions now.
Our future is not assured. You’ve got to make the right decisions today that will enable us to have jobs and prosperity tomorrow.
One of the big decisions the Government’s made which will shape that tomorrow is the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
And there’s just no doubt that broadband being around the country with fibre to the premises will make a different to national productivity; to the way we live and work.
But the rollout of broadband is going to do more than lift national productivity; it’s also going to facilitate people having more options and more choices about the way in which they do their work.
At the moment, many people make long journeys to get to their workplace.
To give you just a few quick statistics on that if you were travelling in Hobart or in Sydney: in Hobart you can easily lose a week of the year just in your commute; in Sydney you can lose 12 days of your year in the commute.
That means Australians in capital cities spend on average between 40 and 70 minutes a day travelling to and from work.
That’s lost time with family and friends, lost time doing things that people would prefer to do rather than being in a long commute to work.
Teleworking gives us some options. It means that people can do some or all of their work from home.
Now obviously the ability to do work from home is going to vary in different occupations, but I believe teleworking can become an increasing feature of the Australian workforce, meaning people don’t have to do a long commute.
A section of their work can be done at home or a section of their work can be done in local business centres where they’re doing a very short commute to the centre of their community, rather than a long commute to the CBD.
Telework also opens up new opportunities for people in regional Australia, and there’s a reason why regional Australia is being so enthusiastic about the National Broadband Network.
So, it’s important that this meeting is happening today and that we are launching National Telework Week to get people thinking about these options and possibilities and I know that we will be canvassing them today.
Teleworking isn’t just giving options and possibilities to people who today do long commutes.
Teleworking has also got the ability to be an instrument of fairness, to get people into the workforce who currently can’t get into the workforce.
And I’m thinking here of people who are parents with childcare responsibility, people who have a disability which means that it’s difficult for them to access workplaces, older Australians, people in regional and rural areas - people who would want to be in the workforce through teleworking if they got the opportunity but who are locked out of the workforce now.
I’m very pleased to also be launching today a report from Deloitte Access Economics and Colmar Brunton about these questions of the ability of telework to give people job possibilities that they haven’t had before.
And their research indicates that 25,000 new jobs could be created and annual GDP could be increased by $3.2 billion by the time the NBN is finished in 2021. So that’s important research for the future.
I believe that the Government has got an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to show some leadership here, which is why I’m also pleased to announce today that we are aiming to increase the penetration of telework in the Australian Public Service to 12 per cent.
Now, that’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some thinking by our agencies but I believe we can be demonstrating, as a big employer, the kind of options and choices that other employers can make to facilitate their workforce in having a different way of working, a different way of running their lives and to facilitate people who currently aren’t in the workforce accessing meaningful work.
So Glyn, with those opening words it’s over to you and I’m very happy to participate in the question and answer session.
GLYN DAVIS, VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: Prime Minister, thank you very much. How are you going to telework? How are you going to use telework as part of your office?
PM: Well we do telework, to give you a couple of examples, some more spectacular than others.
Perhaps the less spectacular examples are that we currently conduct some of our meetings in government, cabinet meetings, cabinet subcommittees, our meetings with officials for briefing and decision making through the use of teleworking, through telepresence facilities.
So we have them around the nation and we make good use of them for those meetings.
Perhaps more spectacularly, when we face the need to get briefed urgently on situations that may be very, very serious ones - indeed crisis situations - we also use teleworking, telepresence to reach out around the world.
I can tell you a story about how we met constantly as a National Security Committee during the days of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami when we were wanting to get real-time reports on what was happening with the recovery from the tsunami, what was happening with our search and rescue team that had been deployed and importantly what was happening with the Fukushima reactors.
We wanted real time information on that, so we were able to use telepresence facilities to have our experts from our nuclear agency online and also to have our Japanese Ambassador online including one time where literally, he bent down to pick up a helmet to put it on his head because he was in the midst of an earthquake aftershock in Tokyo.
But they’re resilient people, our diplomats, so we just kept the meeting going.
GLYN DAVIS: Thank you Prime Minister. I’ve got four questions lined up and I’ll start with Paul Geason if I may.
PAUL GEASON: Thank you Glyn, good morning Prime Minister.
PM: Good morning.
PAUL GEASON: My question is, if perhaps you could share a little bit more detail on how you see telework being connected to your economic agenda and perhaps a second question, what role or part telework might play in your policy work on the Asian Century?
PM: Well they are both good questions.
I’ve just been travelling in the region talking to people about our Asian Century White Paper and explaining how our nation is now very focused on making sure that we keep building on the strengths of our resilient economy and we seize all of the opportunities that we’ve got in our nation’s future.
I think teleworking and the use of the National Broadband Network can fit with this agenda.
We are in or close to the time zones of Asia depending on which part of the country you’re in.
Perth in particular, if you look north from there you can see yourself in time zones for so many of our big neighbours and partners.
That means that we can engage in real time exchanges of information during the times that businesses want to work in our region.
So, that’s a great comparative advantage when you compare ourselves with the economies of Europe or with the economy of the United States of America.
So, I can see us using the benefits of the National Broadband Network to even further enhance the benefits of adjacency we’ve got in this century of change.
I think what that means is that we will be able not only to spread those benefits - the new opportunities in this century - to big businesses, but they will be able to be realised in real time by small and medium enterprises around the country.
So I can image a boutique tourism venture in regional Australia that makes its trade through its broadband engagement into Asia.
I can image bespoke fashion outlets that are working in our cities or in regional Australia that once again get their clientele and market by engaging into Asia.
And then of course we’ve got all of the opportunities that come through the food industry, through elaborately transformed manufactures, through our services sector including international education.
So there are a lot of possibilities here.
In terms of our own economy, I think our broadband will reshape our economy by enhancing its productivity and the size of our GDP.
The statistics are very clear that having a ubiquitous broadband means that you do increase your national income, you do increase your Gross Domestic Product and as a nation that wants to see greater jobs and wealth and prosperity for our citizens, that’s important to us.
GLYN DAVIS: Thank you. Paul, of course, is the Group Managing Director of Telstra, so let’s now hear from the Vice President of Asia Cisco, Les Williamson.
LES WILLIAMSON: Yes, good morning Prime Minister.
Do you see telework as being the way of the future for workers in the whole economy?
PM: I don’t think it’s going to be there for the whole economy.
There are a number of jobs where the nature of doing the task is that you must be physically present in a particular space at a particular time.
So it’s not going to replace all ways of working but I think for many workers it can give them options for a section of their work and for some workers it can give them an option for all of their work and I do think that we will see increased penetration.
For us to set ourselves a 12 per cent target, I think is a good indicator about the way in which we’ll see change over the coming years.
GLYN DAVIS: Maha Krishnapillai is the General Manager for telecommunications at Australia Post, Maha.
MAHA KRISHNAPILLAI: Thank you, Prime Minister. You’ve talked a lot about the digital economy in recent speeches and I think that there are many industries and businesses going through their own, if you like, digital Kodak moment.
What do you think is going to be the major driver behind that and what can the Government do to facilitate the move to the digital economy?
PM: Well, a Kodak moment sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it, but I know what you mean.
I actually think, for us at the moment - and if I can just take up your Kodak moment usage of terminology - I think for us at the moment, one of the great things about the age in which we live is because we’ve come through the Global Financial Crisis in the way in which we have, because we haven’t had a recession, we can actually be tooling up for the economy of the future.
Not because we’re standing on a burning platform and we’re in a moment of crisis, but because we’ve got the ability to make the decisions now which can realise our big ambitions for the future.
I think if I was a leader in Europe, I would be approaching this task differently because of the real problems that their economies are facing.
Here, with our economy the way it is now, we can see I think through making today’s decisions well, that we will get a great deal of benefit tomorrow.
So I think many Australian businesses can come to this task too in a planned way rather than with a sense of crisis in the moment.
What I think government can do is we can engage with businesses and explain the nature of this opportunity.
Now for many big businesses that’s redundant. They’re already well and truly engaged in the digital economy or they’ve got the kind of expertise easily available to them on tap which will shape their digital future for them.
But for small and medium enterprises, I think we can make a real difference in their understanding of the benefits of the digital economy.
Today, we know that many, many, many of our small businesses don’t even have a website, so they haven’t even taken the first step into the use of new technology, let alone all of the other steps to follow.
So I think government can play a leadership role; we can lead by example, we can bring people together for education and support and we can bring people together too in the way in which we did in the digital economy forum to get the synergies between smaller and bigger businesses and get everybody thinking about what this age can mean for us if we’re properly prepared.
GLYN DAVIS: Thank you and we have a final question from a broadband champion. Helen Thompson is from the University of Ballarat, Helen.
HELEN THOMPSON: Prime Minister, I’m interested to know whether telework has deeper implications for business models. Is it just about changing patterns of work for current jobs or is there something there about future employment as well?
PM: I think you’re absolutely right, there’s certainly something there about future employment.
When I was first coming into politics, if someone had said to me at that stage that there would be people who make their living as bloggers, for example, that that’s what they do for a job, that is how they earn their income, I would have looked a bit quizzically at them I think and said, what on earth are you talking about, what is this word ‘blog’? And that’s how the conversation would have gone.
I think that there will be jobs that can be realised tomorrow that we can’t even properly imagine today.
That is where the technology is going to take us to and I think that that’s a wonderful creative force.
Just like now there are so many people who make their living from the way in which the technology is shaping our economy today and we’ve seen the rise of whole new occupations and ventures as a result.
I think we will see that even more tomorrow.
So all sorts of creative possibilities in front of us and to give you some examples of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet.
Based in regional Australia, a clothing story that saturated its own market in its regional town and now trades around the nation and around the world.
These are the kind of things that we wouldn’t have imaged as job possibilities in regional Australia five, 10, 15 years ago but are there now for people to get those jobs and get that work and have that highly skilled work in regional Australia.
So we’re in a dynamic time of change. We can’t see all of these future possibilities but we certainly can get ready for them.
GLYN DAVIS: Prime Minister thank you. You’ve shown us in the most practical way possible that you can have a conversation at a distance, and that the technology is now good enough to have a real sense of presence and a real capacity to engage with people.
So I’m sure other will want to join me in saying, Prime Minister, thank you very much for participating in our conference.
PM: Thank you Glyn.