Speech - Ben Chifley Memorial Dinner Address 2023

** Acknowledgements omitted **

I pay my deepest respects to the Wiradjuri people – the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today.

I honour Elders past and present, and extend my respects to all First Nations people with us today.


I say this as a proud member of an Albanese Labor Government committed to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

This gracious request from Australia’s First Peoples asks us to Recognise and to Listen.

In the coming weeks, we will have the privilege to vote on the product of this consultation, in the form of a Voice.

The Voice is a simple mechanism to ensure that we listen to the views of Australia’s First Peoples before we make decisions that directly affect them.

If not now, then when? And if not the Voice, then what?

I believe that Australians can and will respond to this gracious request with empathy and a belief in our most cherished principle: a fair go.

I’ll spend tonight explaining the important work our Government is doing to improve communications in rural and regional Australia – but let’s first acknowledge that the digital gap remains stubbornly wide between First Nations and non-First Nations Australians.

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index released only a few weeks ago highlights that while overall rates of digital inclusion across the country are improving, First Nations Australians still lag behind.

Disaggregating the Index’s results shows the impact that remoteness has: in major cities First Nations Australians are only 1.7 points behind, but this blows out to a 24 to 25 point gap for people in First Nations communities in remote or very remote areas.

This digital inclusion gap increasingly represents a barrier to almost everything: health, education, financial and government services for a start. 

And that’s why we need a Voice to Parliament – to help develop policies and strategies with First Nations peoples, not for them.

As Chifley said, you are part of the Labor movement “because you believe in a movement that has been built up to bring better conditions to the people.” That’s exactly the point of the Voice.

There is no better idea as to how to ensure better conditions for First Nations Australians, how to Close the Gap.

It is time to listen, and it is time to work together as a whole Australia.

So, let’s get on with it.


It is a privilege to have the opportunity to join you tonight as we gather once again to celebrate the enduring legacy of one of our greatest leaders, Ben Chifley.

And it is even more pleasing that I do so as part of the Albanese Labor Government roughly halfway our first term.

The "Light on the Hill" speech series serves as a powerful reminder of the core values that guide our movement and the vision that propels us forward.

It’s critical that we regularly stop and remind ourselves of the ultimate objective, which is very simple: to always strive to make things better.

Communications and the Light on the Hill

As some of you will know, communications is my professional and personal passion.

We interface with communications multiple times every day – for some of us, we’re constantly connected.

Even the very first forms of rudimentary communications technology revolutionised the way people connect, transact and learn.

In Chifley’s day, communications in Australia would have been limited to a few options: the wireless, the Overland Telegraph, letter and telegrams.

The Communications Minister didn’t exist – it was the storied Postmaster General.

But the Communications portfolio has now expanded well beyond what existed in Chifley’s day.

It’s everything.

It’s our two government business enterprises: Australia Post and NBN Co.

It’s our public broadcasters, commercial television networks and streaming platforms.

It’s grappling with how we can ensure more Australians can see events of national significance like the Matildas games live and free.

It’s combatting scams to keep consumers safe, and working to improve online safety.

It’s boosting media literacy so that our youngest Australians can become the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow our democracy needs.

It’s how books, movies and even video games are classified, to ensure Australians can make informed choices about the content that’s appropriate for their families.

And it’s holding big tech to account.

While the breadth of the portfolio has exploded, its ability to deliver on Chifley’s vision of a fairer society for all remains just as powerful.

My approach to the Communications portfolio is deeply rooted in that same spirit of equality, social progress, and inclusivity.

I spent many years advising major players, regulators and governments, both in Australia and across the Asia Pacific, on all aspects of policy, legislative and regulatory issues.

When I first started at a Sydney technology law firm, it had just made the controversial decision to become the first firm in Australia to allow its employees – wait for it – unrestricted access to the internet.

They did this because they could see, sooner than most, just how transformative the internet was going to be.

We have seen that play out to the point where digital inclusion, having the skills to access affordable infrastructure and services, is not just a key, but in many ways the key to economic and social opportunity. 

In the early 2000s, it was already becoming clear that those lucky enough to capitalise on the internet had new doors opening before them, while those who didn’t were going to face barriers to opportunity.

Now, digital inclusion is a key determinant of access to safety, healthcare and education, to essential financial and government services and to real opportunity.

One of the previous speakers, someone you may have heard of by the name of Anthony Albanese, in his Light on the Hill speech, eloquently reminded us that the Labor Party's mission is "to remove the barriers that stand in the way of any Australian's potential."

These words resonate as strongly today as they did when they were first spoken.

In the time since, it has become abundantly clear that we should be as concerned by digital inequality and exclusion as the Labor Party has always been by any systemic inequality.

Particularly in regional areas, if you are left out of decent connectivity, it makes it harder for you to sustain a business, and compete with businesses based in the city or around the world.

It makes it harder to be able to work from home, and work flexibility around other commitments in your life.

It adds to commuting time – a frustration shared both within regional communities and outer suburban communities like mine in North-West Sydney – because you can’t work remotely, adding more cost and time pressures on hard working families.

This is the great challenge we must grapple with.

Our commitment to addressing these problems through our vision of a more connected Australia is unfaltering.

It is our Government – a Labor Government – that has the agenda to boost digital access and inclusion across Australia; from our largest cities through to the most remote communities.

NBN as an embodiment of the Light on the Hill

Friends, Communications is an area where the philosophical differences between the two major parties could not be clearer.

Those on our side of politics are instinctively looking for the unseen barriers.

We are looking for the ways in which more opportunity can be given to more Australians – no matter where they live or work.

In the early days of the Rudd Government, clear and deeply disturbing barriers stood in the way of Australia’s potential: Australia’s internet performance was lagging and the industry simply couldn’t - or wouldn’t - deliver a market-led solution. 

And just as importantly, Australia’s vast land area and low population density meant that our regions suffered more than those in our cities or the suburbs.

Regional communities had a steeper communications hill to climb. There was less connectivity, slower speeds, and longer fault restoration times.

Nowadays, we often take for granted the communications services we have at our disposal.

But not even 30 years ago, the moment you left a metro or peri-urban area, you were on your own.

I remember my very first mobile phone actually came in a suitcase.

It was a cumbersome satellite phone – fitted out with an awkwardly large aerial – that meant I was able to make phone calls while travelling for work in regional NSW.

It was incredible to be able to use that kind of mobile technology to keep in touch from outside a major city.

And importantly, it showed that Australia’s regional, rural, remote communities, including of course many First Nations communities are the ones who stood the most to gain from digital transformation.

This was, after all, the one transformational opportunity which could end the tyranny of distance.

These were the communities who most needed a level playing field, after years of being hung out to dry by the Howard years of privatisation and a reliance on market forces.

The result was an Australia with deep challenges on multiple fronts.

Rather than leave Australians to fall further behind, Labor set about a revolutionary and ambitious plan by creating the National Broadband Network.

It is only Labor Governments who deliver the step changes needed in our social and economic infrastructure that take the country forward - be it Medicare, the NDIS, superannuation and the Snowy Hydro Scheme.

These were all Labor initiatives that have had a transformative impact on our nation.

The NBN’s purpose?

To provide world class fast, reliable and affordable broadband to all Australians through a full-fibre network.

As with all good initiatives – a Labor Government developed and started the roll out of the NBN, and the Coalition trashed it.

Make no mistake: the NBN was no Labor vanity project.

For years, the ACCC highlighted that regional Australia was being left behind across key metrics – including communications infrastructure.

Stagnation during the Howard years meant something had to change – and thank goodness we had a Labor Government with the determination to get it done.

It’s now just over a decade since Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott launched the Coalition’s disastrous broadband policy, which saddled us with a second rate multi technology mix costing double the original forecast - $58 billion.

Malcolm Turnbull as Minister was given a single direction: destroy the NBN.

It is mind boggling that the Liberals and Nationals purchased over 60,000 kilometres of new copper – enough to wrap around planet earth one and a half times.

Their decision to abandon fibre was always about the short-sighted politics, never about the future.

Who can forget Tony Abbott’s famous forecast that ‘we are absolutely confident that 25 megs is going to be enough, more than enough, for the average household’?

Well, according to the ACCC, and a recent digital consumer survey, the typical household now consumes on average 452 gigabytes of data per month to connect 22 internet-connected household devices

So, as usual, wasn’t Abbott wrong!

Unlike the No-alition of wreckers, we’ve has always recognised the value of the NBN.

We are now we’re getting on with the job of ensuring more Australians can enjoy its transformation benefits.

The Albanese Government is delivering on its election commitment by investing $2.4 billion to give an additional 1.5 million premises full-fibre access.

This includes providing full-fibre access to more than 660,000 additional homes and businesses in the regions currently relying on copper – and importantly, just shy of 15,000 in the electorate of Calare right here in the Central West.

This is set to boost the reliability of services and the productivity of regional businesses, and support the changes in the ways we work, study and transact – since the pandemic.

This work is well underway with more than a million additional premises identified and being connected for high speed broadband.

The fibre repair job is being delivered by a Labor Government after the Coalition’s  oversight of the NBN proved to be a masterclass in economic and technological incompetence.

Labor promised to invest to expand the NBN fibre network because we believe in helping all Australians access the connectivity, reliability and productivity benefits that full fibre broadband will deliver.

And the proof is coming in.

New research on the impact of the NBN across Australia shows that the economic benefits are substantial – perhaps even more than we might have thought.

To provide some context.

In 2011, only 55% of householders in regional and remote communities had broadband at home.

On average, they experienced broadband speeds of around 7 Mbps.

Accenture modelling, commissioned by NBN Co and which will be released in full later this year, has shown that broadband connectivity has helped to narrow the digital divide, particularly in regional Australia.

In 2022, the number of households in regional and remote communities with access to broadband at home has jumped to 77%, and average speeds now sit around 40 Mbps – a significant uplift.

By the time the Albanese Government’s fibre upgrade program is complete by the end of 2025, 90 per cent of homes and businesses in the fixed line footprint will be able to access download speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.

These figures have real life impacts for rural and regional Australians.

The modelling shows that increasing broadband speeds delivers greater economic inclusion – creating around 170,000 jobs nationally.

Higher speeds also help boost female workforce participation, with over 100,000 of those jobs being filled by women.

Faster reliable speeds are a gamechanger, and the uplift in workforce participation can be attributed to a range of factors, including accessibility to flexible work, as well as access to online education.

For too long, these have been benefits enjoyed primarily by Australians living in metropolitan areas – but we’re seeing the impact faster speeds can have in regional communities.

And that is why our upgrades to the NBN fixed line network in regional Australia are so important.

And it’s why our almost half a billion dollar investment to expand Fixed Wireless is so important.

And why our new NBN Sky Muster service – providing uncapped NBN data for residential satellite users for the very first time – is so important.

These initiatives play a vital role in the broadband mix, but so is our work to boost access for families with school aged children without access any broadband at home.

To address this inequity, we are delivering the School Student Broadband Initiative to provide free broadband access to unconnected families for twelve months. 

More than 3,000 families without broadband at home have already been connected to free internet. 

This is a Labor initiative, ensuring as many families as possible can take advantage of this assistance, to help with cost of living, so that students - regardless of their circumstances - can access the internet to undertake their education.

Albanese Government’s commitment to regional Australia

During my time as Minister for Communications, I have seen first-hand the significant divide between our cities and regions when it comes to opportunity.

We often hear from the opposition, and particularly the National Party that they are the natural party for regional Australia.

Well, the National Party had five Cabinet Ministers in the last Government – unless there are any more secret swearing in ceremonies we are yet to be made aware of.

Over nine long years, what did those Nationals Ministers actually do?

They trashed the NBN, talked a big game on Fixed Wireless upgrades they never delivered and let the satellite service dwindle.

They failed to support Australia Post to modernise in the interests of rural and regional communities, and their only “reform” of Australia Post was an outrageous attempt to sack one in four posties under the cover of the pandemic – without consultation or explanation.

And they kicked reform to the universal service obligation down the road, leaving industry and their communities in the lurch.

It is abundantly clear that the previous Government dropped the ball when it came to addressing the communications needs of regional Australia.

This isn’t good enough.  

Make no mistake: despite all Nationals’ bluster, Labor backs the regions and we’ve got the runs on the board to prove it.

In this Government’s first Budget, we delivered the largest regional communications funding package since the establishment of the NBN.

The $1.1 Billion Better Connectivity Plan goes well beyond the NBN fibre and fixed wireless upgrades I covered earlier, and delivers hundreds of millions of dollars of Commonwealth funding for:

  • improved mobile coverage
  • enhanced telecommunications and broadcasting resilience
  • on-farm connectivity
  • the first independent national audit of mobile coverage, and
  • an extension and expansion of the Regional Tech Hub.

We also funded two key public safety and emergency management initiatives which will deliver a national mobile emergency messaging system and crystallise a vision for a national public safety broadband network; for frontline police, fire, ambulance, SES and other services.

These are critical for regional, rural, remote and First Nations Australians because they bear the brunt of natural disasters.

In the last year, I have travelled as far and wide in our regions as possible from Darwin to Port Augusta, Palm Island, Townsville and Bendigo, to Nowra and Singleton, up to Gladstone, and now here to the good city of Bathurst.

Ours is a Government which is fully focused on ensuring that regional Australia is not left behind.

Broader Communications portfolio

Labor is not only committed to investing substantially in regional communications infrastructure, but a swathe of initiatives that protect our public institutions, keep Australians safe online, and modernise our postal and broadcasting services.

We have delivered 5-year funding terms for the ABC and SBS to give them the certainty and independence they need and deserve, made it easier to reduce online gambling harm through self-exclusion, and are supporting broadcasting services in regional Australia, including through VAST, Imparja and community broadcasting.

We’re conducting transparent consultation to ensure Australia Post - this cherished national icon – can continue delivering for Australian consumers and businesses particularly in the regions.

And we’ve made clear: the Albanese Labor Government will not privatise Australia Post.

All of this ensures that all Australians can be connected, empowered and informed.


Just as Chifley once said, "The Labor Government believes in a better way of life for all."

As we consider our journey, it is worth reflecting on the legacy of those who have spoken before us in the "Light on the Hill" series.

Anthony Albanese's words ring in our ears: "If you believe in something, you can change it. If you care enough, you can make a difference."

These words encapsulate the essence of our Labor values and the reason we gather here today.

The "Light on the Hill" speech series has served as a reminder of our roots, and a vision for our collective future.

Each year, we stand on the shoulders of serious giants, not least Ben Chifley who lit the path for us, and like Anthony Albanese, who reminded us that our beliefs drive our actions.

Let us reaffirm our commitment to the values that unite us as a party.

Let us pledge to continue building a nation where opportunities are accessible to all, regardless of circumstance.

The "Light on the Hill" continues to guide us as we march forward, inspired by the leaders who came before us and driven by the promise of a better, more inclusive Australia.

In closing, let us embrace the journey ahead with open hearts and minds, as we honour the legacy of those who paved the way before us.

The "Light on the Hill" continues to illuminate our path, reminding us that our labour is not in vain, our dreams are not out of reach, and our future is bright. 

Thank you.