Who is the most important person who ever lived, why is it the most exciting time to be a Jedi, and what’s really happening with Malcolm’s Copperart NBN? (Tech Leaders Forum – Leura)

“Who is the most important person who ever lived, why is it the most exciting time to be a Jedi, and what’s really happening with Malcolm’s Copperart NBN?”









Who is the most important person who has ever lived?

A big question for a Monday morning.

Here’s my theory.  

It’s a musical instrument counterfeiter from Glasgow.  

Around the same time James Cook landed at Botany Bay and Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence, this musical instrument maker was tinkering with steam engines.  

He didn’t invent the steam engine, but he did improve it.  His changes transformed it from an inefficient device for pumping water into something that would lead to the creation of factories, mass production, railways, mass transportation and the emergence of the modern city.

His name was James Watt, and what he did between 1765 and 1776 transformed the world.

Have a look at this.  This is a graph of the growth in the world’s population and human development over the last eight thousand years or so.


Those little bumps you can see are the rise of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.  The massive cliff face you can see on the right – that’s the Industrial Revolution.

James Watt’s ingenuity lit the fuse for all of that. That I think gives him a pretty decent claim to being the most significant person to ever live.

There’s also a pretty good argument that something like this is happening again.  But this time it is computer power, the internet and digital technology, not the steam engine, that’s doing the heavy lifting.  

When I was here at this Forum two years ago I talked a bit about this.  

I made the point in that speech that we are in a global race.  That the companies and the countries that adapt the quickest and the best to the digital transformation of our economy and our society will be the most successful.

You could call it digital Darwinism.   


In that speech I talked about where we are falling behind – and I concentrated on education and skills.  I made the point that we are not producing anywhere near the number of STEM qualified workers we need. 

Think about this – in the last 25 years the number of secretarial jobs in Australia has dropped by about half a million.  The number of labourers has dropped by 400,000.

Over the same period the number of professionals has jumped by 700,000 (or 54 per cent) and the number of community and personal service workers has jumped by 400,000 (or 87 per cent). 

Smarter machines are performing more and more human tasks – and the jobs that are growing are high skill and high touch jobs. 

I am sure you have seen the same reports I have seen over the last few years that say up to half the jobs we do today will be automated in the next twenty years.

They may be right.  They might be wrong on the actual percentages.  But the trend is clear.  It’s also clear that the new jobs that will be created will require different skills – STEM skills, digital skills – and we are not producing enough people with them.

This is where Government can play an important role.  Two hundred years ago it was the introduction of compulsory public education that helped fuel the industrial revolution, today its STEM and digital skills.

Over the last 12 months we have announced a series of policies that we will implement if we are elected in a few months’ time.  They include: 

  • Teaching coding and computational thinking to every child from primary school up
  • Training for existing science and maths teachers who don’t have STEM qualifications 
  • 25,000 teacher scholarships to encourage STEM graduates to become school teachers
  • And 100,000 STEM university degrees where we will write off the HECs debt

On top of that we have also said we will create a HECs style loan system for university graduates who are trying to set up their own start up in a university incubator.

We have also said we will create a new student entrepreneur visa to encourage smart young overseas students who get a degree in Australia to stay on afterwards and create their own company here and the jobs that go with it.

They are just a few of the policies we have announced.  Late last year the government released their own set of innovation policies.  About half of them were polices we have already announced.

That’s good.  I am glad they have picked them up.  I am glad we finally have both parties talking about this. 

We have got to seize this moment, because this isn’t a boutique debate.  It’s the main game.  As I said earlier, the countries that do this the best will end up with the jobs, the wealth and highest standard of living this century.

Those that don’t – to paraphrase Paul Keating – will end up digital banana republics.

We have started to make a move in the right direction.  But we have got a long way to go.  That includes building a better NBN.


When you look at the countries that were the most successful in the Industrial Revolution one things stands out.  They were the ones who built the best and the biggest railway networks.  The railway tracks that James Watt’s steam engines ran on.

What’s the equivalent of that today? It’s our broadband network.  And on that front we are a long we behind.  

Three years ago we were ranked 30th in the world for broadband speed.  We are now ranked 46th.  We are behind most of Asia and most of Europe, the US and Canada.  We are even behind Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Poland.  They are all ahead of us.

I am very critical of what Malcolm Turnbull has done to the NBN.  This is why, look at this: 

In the last two and a half years the cost of the NBN Malcolm Turnbull is building has almost doubled – up from the $29.5 billion he promised to up to $56 billion.

The time it will take to build the NBN has more than doubled. In April 2013, almost three years ago, Malcolm Turnbull promised that everyone would have access to his version of the NBN by the end of this year.

So if you are still buffering blame Malcolm. The whole country won’t get the NBN this year.  Not by a long shot.  Less than 15 per cent of Australians have it now.  It won’t be until the end of the decade that every Australia has access to it – and that is being optimistic.  More on that in a minute.

Leaked documents have also revealed that the cost of Fibre to the Node has almost tripled – up from $600 a premise to over $1600, and the cost of fixing the old Telstra copper to make Fibre to the Node work has blown out by more than 1000 per cent.

It gets worse. Where they have started rolling out Fibre to the Node in places like the Central Coast and the Hunter and Bundaberg it’s not working properly. 

In the afternoon when kids gets home from school people are complaining that their internet speeds are now slower than they were with ADSL.

Here’s just one example. This is Max Taylor from Gorokan. He had Fibre to the Node connected to his home over a month ago. He ordered a 100 Mbps service.  He told my office in an email the other day that he is now receiving speeds as slow as 226Kbps during peak hours. 

This is what he said in the email:

“I have now given up using my NBN internet during peak hours or on the weekend. I am now paying $99 per month for a service I cannot use. I was better off on my ADSL1 service.”

On top of that we got another leak last week that revealed that according to the standards NBN Co has set, if you have Fibre to the Node and it drops out up to five times a day that is defined as “acceptable”.

And then last Wednesday night the head of NBN Co Bill Morrow gave us another interesting piece of information.  He finally revealed how many nodes they are building.  The answer is more than 30,000.

A few months ago NBN Co said that they would need an average of 350 metres of new copper for every node they stood up. Do the maths. That means NBN Co has to buy more than 10 million metres of new copper to make all of this work.

We really are getting a Copperart version of the NBN. 10 million metres is enough copper to connect us here in the Blue Mountains to Bangalore. It’s enough to connect us to Russia.  It’s almost enough to get us from here to Silicon Valley.

And to add insult to injury, we got another leaked document two weeks ago that reveals that while the cost of Fibre to the Node is going up, the cost of Fibre to the Premise is going down.

Last year NBN Co ran a trial of a new type of fibre architecture in Ballarat and Karingal. It uses skinnier fibre and smaller form equipment that can fit more easily into the pits and ducts.  The results were extraordinary.  It virtually eliminated the need for civil construction work in the local fibre network (the LNDN).

As a result the cost of rolling out fibre from the Fibre Exchange (usually a Telstra Exchange) to the pit in the street at the front of a house has dropped massively – from $1,700 to $900 a home.

In the same week there was another leaked document that exposed that the rollout of Fibre to the Node is behind schedule.

According to NBN Co’s internal targets they were supposed to have the network built for 94,000 homes by 12 February.  They are nowhere near that.  According to the leaked report they are only at 29,000.  Less than a third of what they were supposed to have done.  The reason – massive delays in design being done by Tata in India and problems connecting to the electricity network here in Australia. 

They are also behind on the rollout of HFC. They originally had planned to connect 2.61 million homes to HFC by the end of this year. Now we are told it will only be 875,000 homes, and that’s by the middle of next year. Again less than a third of the original target. 

And then finally we get to this – the three year rollout plan. A ramp Evel Knievel couldn’t jump.

We are here at the moment. Just before an election. According to this, despite all the problems I have just described, NBN Co is going to connect more than 6 million premises in the next two years. That’s half the country. It’s very hard to believe. They are supposed to connect everyone in Australia by the end of 2020. I think now it’s more likely to be 2022.

It’s a mess – and at the end of all this we are still left with a second rate version of the NBN.

Can you just imagine what James Watt and the railway track builders of the 19th Century would say if they were here today?


When I was here two years ago you might remember I revealed I was a Commodore 64 kid.  What I didn’t reveal is I am also a bit of a Star Wars nut.  I made national news a few weeks ago for comparing Malcolm Turnbull to Jar Jar Binks. 

Anyway, like most boys in the late 1970s and early 80s I wanted to be Luke Skywalker.  I thought the light saber was the coolest thing ever.  I tried to do the Jedi mind trick on my mum, and I desperately wanted to be able to move things with my mind.

Why am I telling you all this?  You might remember two years ago I told you the story of Tan Le.  A Vietnamese refugee, who came to Australia at the age of four, became young Australian of the year at the age of 21, a barrister at 22 and now has a company in San Francisco that makes these devices that enable quadriplegics to move their wheelchair with their mind.  Amazing stuff.


I caught up with Tan in San Francisco in January.  She told me they are now also involved in deep brain research on things like Alzheimer’s and dementia.  And they are also working with a little company called Disney.  Last year Tan’s company Emotiv was selected by Disney to be part of their three month accelerator program.

Now check this out www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-4mp_e5v4A

Isn’t that cool?  The Prime Minister says there has never been a better time to be alive.  I reckon there has never been a better time to be a little kid (or a big kid) who wants to be a Jedi. 

Thanks very much.  Have a great conference.