Reception for Australia’s ITU Council candidacy

Good evening everyone, Your Excellency’s esteemed colleagues, one and all.

I too acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

I am so pleased to welcome you all this evening to celebrate Australia’s campaign for re-election to the International Telecommunication Union Council at the Plenipotentiary Conference in September.

As Daniel mentioned, my life’s passion is communications. I spent a decade as a communications lawyer specialising in media broadcasting and telecommunications. In particular, I did a number of projects around the world over 10 years acting for donor agencies for individual regulators, but also for a number of private sector operators.

It was during that time that I came to appreciate the work of the ITU. Not only in terms of the knowledge that it brought through a number of publications that were so readily accessible, but the principles that were behind it. To this day, those principles still remain very much a guiding light for me now in my role as Minister. In particular, the ITU as a body of capacity building continues to be so important.

Closing the connectivity gap

I wanted to say something, as mentioned previously, about the importance of closing the connectivity gap.

As you have heard, Australia is firmly committed to being part of the ITU’s mission of connecting the world.

With around one-third of the world’s population still offline, not connected to the internet, closing this connectivity gap must remain a top priority in the ITU. Australia will continue to actively support this important goal.

I should also say on this point, that we take a very self-reflective approach to this. As our Prime Minister has stated, one of his Government’s priorities is to bring the Voice To Parliament. Part of that also includes closing the gap in terms of connectivity for Australia’s Indigenous people. We will practice what we preach and we will deliver on these goals.

In the Asia-Pacific region and globally, the ITU provides direct assistance to help least developed countries, small island developing states, and landlocked least developed countries achieve their ICT goals and bridge that divide.

We have had a longstanding agreement to work hand-in-hand with ITU by funding multi‑year development projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

It’s here that I should say that I take a very special interest. I am apparently the only Cabinet Minister in Australia’s history to have a Pacific background being of Fijian heritage. So, I take this very seriously.

These projects support the realisation of regional ICT goals and delivery of important initiatives on digital transformation, sustainable infrastructure and digital connectivity.

Over the past decade, Australia has supported projects in the Pacific to develop guidelines on the management of telephone numbers, National Emergency Telecommunications, and support for the development of Computer Incident Response Team implementation plans.

We have also committed funding to support Smart Village and Smart Island Initiatives in the region. We are especially proud of these initiatives, which have received recognition within the G20.

We firmly believe digital development objectives should prioritise those who remain unconnected. They should work to bridge the digital divide should focus on enabling accessible, affordable and resilient connectivity. 

Working with our Pacific partners, we have seen increasingly fast and more reliable communications infrastructure in the region.

Pacific initiatives to foster the mobile industry, in particular, have supported e-banking and delivered critical services such as telemedicine to some of the most remote locations on the planet.

And we were there to support the people of Tonga to restore connectivity following the devastating volcanic eruption, which severed almost all communications with the country — working closely with our partners, including of course the ITU.

I want to talk about promoting transparency, openness, inclusiveness, and gender equality.

Turning now to our contributions to the Council, Australia has helped drive important reforms on the management of financial and human resources, to support an ITU that is more transparent, accountable and responsive to its membership.

We are committed to gender equality, to bridging the gender digital divide and building a more inclusive ITU.

This year, the Government of Australia was proud to deliver a gender-equality and women's empowerment initiative at the ITU to increase the influence of women in decision‑making at the upcoming Conference.

The initiative provided training to support women delegates prepare for multilateral negotiations, chairing, speaking and policy-making roles at the Conference and beyond. 

I firmly believe women's empowerment in ICT decision-making processes will have benefits far beyond this conference.

Before wrapping-up today’s proceedings, I want to reflect on the world in 2022.

Since we first heard of COVID-19 just a few short years ago, facing a pandemic together has truly highlighted how critical ICT is for sharing information and keeping us all connected.

Relying on screens and expanding our digital activity, we witnessed an unparalleled surge in demand for high-quality broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

The internet has been able to soften some of the pandemic’s economic and social impacts, providing access to telemedicine, hybrid work options, and the opportunity to stay in contact with family and friends.

In this environment, as the crisis wears on and with connectivity more important than ever, it is up to us to mobilise to make sure communities are not left behind.

In support of this goal, Australia is committed to continuing its long-standing relationship with the ITU in the years ahead, and working to promote social and economic development through facilitating access to technology.

Our contributions to Council have helped strengthen governance and administration, supported good strategic and financial planning, promoted inclusivity and openness, as well as enhanced accountability and transparency.

Our commitment to building global connectivity, particularly in the Pacific and other developing states, remains strong as we strive to bridge the gender digital divide and build a more inclusive ITU.

At the Conference, when Australia seeks re-election to the ITU Council, I warmly encourage those here today to support Australia to represent the Asia and Australasia region.

Thank you so much for making the time to be here.

It is an absolute honour and privilege to host you.