The ALP's plan to invest in a public private partnership (PPP) to build a high-speed broadband network is the latest dramatisation of the constantly shifting positions of private and public organisations as providers of communications services. Over the last century-and-a half, the sector has been a constant source of new institutional models. As former public monopolies have been privatised since the 1980s, PPPs have come into vogue in other sectors of the economy and social policy. This paper will examine the experience of Australia's main wireless company, AWA, as a PPP created to develop a new communications capability. The company was reconstructed as a public/private enterprise in 1922 to establish direct wireless telegraph services between Australia and Britain and North America, remaining in 50/50 public/private ownership until 1951. The tensions it confronted also seem likely to afflict any 21st century broadband partnership.
Paper presented at the Governing By Looking Back Conference: How History Matters in Society, Politics and Government, Canberra, Australia 12-14 December 2007