Paul Fletcher MP

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014 00:00

Speech to the Google Global Impact Challenge


Good morning, it is a pleasure to be here and thanks to Google for hosting this important event.

Today I’d like to discuss three powerful ideas which are on display in the Global Impact Challenge. First, that technology is profoundly changing the way we can attack longstanding problems – thanks to ever greater, and vastly cheaper, computing power. Second, that not-for-profit and social ventures can benefit just as much from this new approach and technology as for-profit businesses can; and finally, that it is through a competitive process we can find the best and most impactful ideas and deliver them in the most effective way.

Technology is profoundly changing the way we can attack longstanding problems

As computer processing power gets even greater, and ever cheaper, it means all kinds of problems can now be attacked in different ways. Business are exploiting this in numerous, innovative ways.

It is no surprise that Google is encouraging social enterprises to use technology in innovative ways, as this kind of thinking is emblematic of Google and has been key to the company’s commercial success.

One great example of this is Google’s ‘Project Loon’, one of the ‘moon shot’ ideas emanating from the special projects department known as Google X. Along with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, I was fortunate enough to have a briefing on the project at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in California in January this year.

Google has said quite a bit about this project publicly, and I will confine my comments to what has been released into the public domain.

Project Loon deals with a problem that we understand very well in Australia – 70% of our landmass does not have mobile connectivity.

One solution to improving mobile coverage is by building more terrestrial base stations. But for a country as big and sparsely populated as Australia, this is a very expensive way of solving the problem – one base station can cost around $600,000 – a cost which increases in challenging topographies and at great distances from other telecoms infrastructure.

But Google’s idea for improving coverage is to put the base station up in the air – carried by a balloon. While a typical base station has a range of around 20 kilometres, a key insight underpinning Project Loon is that this figure remains the same whether the base station is on the ground or up in the air.

There are a range of disciplines involved in such an engineering feat, such as statistics and meteorology. The balloons are unpowered and float in the winds of the earth’s stratosphere – at altitudes twice as high as airplanes.

Another factor is how strong the balloon’s fabric has to be, as helium inevitably leaks out over time. The balloons are designed to come down to earth after a period of time and they are then collected, disassembled and the electronics are re-used for another flight.

This kind of project involves completely lateral thinking, but if the live trials which are already underway prove their worth, it is a project which will garner some serious attention.

Not-for-profit and social ventures can benefit as much from this new approach and technology as for-profit businesses can

One of the key insights behind the Global Impact Challenge is that using technology to solve problems in novel ways holds the same power for social enterprises and not-for-profits as it does for commercial businesses.

There is abundant proof of this proposition in the range of innovative proposals put up by the finalists here today. Let me congratulate each of the finalists for your dedication and your entrepreneurial spirit in using technology to bring about positive change.

All of the proposals are hugely impressive; as I am not one of the judges so I can mention two or three without indicating any preference:

  • Engineers without Borders has a program for bio-digester toilets for coastal Cambodian communities, which in three years aims to install 2,500 systems benefitting around 15,000 people without access to sanitation infrastructure.
  • InfoXchange has a program to connect Australia's homeless with social services, aiming to deliver $3 million in savings for service providers which can be invested back into service delivery.
  • The University of Technology Sydney will present on its sensor network and early warning system to detect excessive groundwater depletion in semi-arid regions – a project with the potential to scale up to impact the 1.8 billion people living in arid and semi-arid regions around the world.

Through a competitive process we can find the best and most impactful ideas – works in business and in not for profit

There can often be an assumption that because a not-for-profit project is very worthy in a social sense, we can be relaxed in assessing its impact and outcomes.

The Global Impact Challenge reminded me of a recent lecture given by Social Ventures Australia CEO Michael Traill, who argued that investing in social change needs to look more like investing in the business world.

He said that all too often, funding for social programs was ‘dysfunctional’, and that a failure to provide funding based on the outcomes achieved by particular social programs was at the heart of the dysfunction.

He added: “While capital allocation in the business world is not perfect, it generally flows based on common metrics of performance. Defining performance expectations in the social purpose world is much more challenging, but it’s critical if we are to make sure that we are funding the right programs.”

That approach, based on the business rigour that has worked to build huge new businesses in software – like Google – equally can have an impact in not-for-profit and social investments.

Today's event, complete with a judging panel of eminent Australians, is not dissimilar to the experience that almost all start-up tech companies have to go through to get their own big ideas off the ground as they front-up to venture capital funds.

I want to congratulate Google for bringing this approach to Australia, building on the success of similar programmes in India, Brazil, the UK and the US.

I’d also like to congratulate Google for their generous offering of both financial support, and also the support of Google staff and hardware to bring these concepts to fruition.


I’d like to conclude by offering my thanks to Google for this terrific initiative and my congratulations to all of the finalists – good luck with each of your projects.

Thanks to our distinguished judging panel drawn from many fields – Glenn McGrath, here as much because of his work as a social entrepreneur as because he is an Aussie cricketing legend; Kim Williams the visionary Australian arts and business figure; businesswoman and philanthropist Anne Geddes; Google’s Australian MD Maile Carnegie and Google’s Director of Global Giving Jacquelline Fuller.

Well done to all.

Tuesday, 07 October 2014 00:00

CommsDay Melbourne Congress


Last week the Vertigan Panel released its report on future regulation of the broadband market in Australia.

While worded in appropriately bureaucratic language the report makes one thing very clear: competition was the first casualty of Labor’s NBN policy.

Strathfield Girls High School – School Captain speeches for the Children's e-Safety Commissioner announcement

It’s a great pleasure to join you at today’s ACCAN ‘Connecting Today’s Consumer’ Conference.

The communications sector is changing at an extraordinary rate. That has all kinds of implications – including for consumers who can find it very hard to keep up.

Monday, 15 September 2014 00:00

Digital Built Environment Conference

Twenty years ago the notion of having someone from the communications portfolio speak at a conference about the built environment would have been rather mystifying.

Of course, twenty years ago the concept of having a conference about the digital built environment would have been equally mystifying.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014 00:00

Third China-Australia Media Forum

It is a pleasure to represent the Australian Government at this very important forum this morning.

I am very pleased to join you for this important event.

May I congratulate the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for organising it – and for all the important work you do in protecting children.

It is a privilege to speak to the Centre for Independent Studies about the importance of maintaining our national competitiveness –and where the digital economy fits into the achievement of that policy goal.

The evidence is clear: citizens want better digital services from their governments.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00

Speech to CEDA Digital Disruption Series

It is a pleasure to participate in CEDA’s very important ‘Digital Disruption’ sessions.

The disruption of industry after industry by a better, internet based offering is one of the great constants of modern economics.

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Authorised by Paul Fletcher MP, Level 2, 280 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW 2070.

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