Turnbull’s digital drive

The king is dead, long live the king came the cry through the gritted teeth of now former-minister Eric Abetz. And so we pretty much all agreed.

With Tony Abbott’s removal from the Prime Ministership, Australia can get on its way again. It is undeniable that Abbott’s brand of conservatism was holding the country back socially and economically. This new contest for the Lodge between Turnbull and Shorten will be fought over who can be the most progressive, and that is good for the country whether you’re Labor or Liberal.

But for us as printers, the outlook is a bit more mournful. With Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, print and mail are headed for the slaughterhouse as government policy.

When Turnbull was Shadow Minister for Communications, one of his first policy ideas was to give every person in Australia their own government sanctioned email address. It would be used only for verified communications from government, and perhaps organisations who wanted to pay to use it.

It was very similar to what Australia Post and Salmat were trying to do recently, and I doubt it is much of a coincidence that Post did it while Turnbull was minister.

Salmat failed and Post are not succeeding because both relied on people voluntarily signing up, and why would you do that? They wanted people to channel all their emails through a system guaranteed to spam you, with the upside being you knew the spam was legitimate. I am not sure how that is better than a standard gmail account – it would certainly be a lot less entertaining to get megaloads of spam from the NAB and none from our Nigerian cousins.

But now Malcolm can force the government departments to push their communications into this kind of a channel, and that will force you to use it too. As for the system, the logical thing would be to use the already up and running Australia Post model.

Over the next few years it will likely become the chief way the government communicates with you. Your tax info, social security stuff, Medicare receipts, land tax and council notices will all be safely able to be shifted from paper to a secure government e-channel. Romano’s Law states that anything that can be digital will be digital. All this stuff can and will be digital.

And if you take your printer’s hat off for a second, you cannot deny it is an idea worth considering. Reducing billions of dollars from government expenditure frees that money up for lower taxes or better services. And so long as the community is still being served by the government, what does it matter if the medium is paper or email?

I said in my last column that PIAA should appeal to the self-interest of members of parliament and remind them how much more they will pay come election time for their print and postage. I had hoped that if enough of them got on board, they could form a pressure group that Abbott would have to mollify by overruling Turnbull. Given Abbott’s parlous standing in the party room it was a feasible strategy.

But who do you appeal to now? Turnbull is safe as the boss and there is no one to appeal to now. Also, remember that he was one of the founders of Ozemail – his platform from day one has been to push the digital economy and cautious progress has never been his style. I have no doubt he would regret that it means we are all going to suffer, but I am also sure that if asked he would just encourage us all to get better jobs.

This will happen. And it will happen faster than you think. Best get ready.

Baden Kirgan is managing director of Jeffries Printing Services

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