Govt set for electorate office IT refresh

The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) is waiting for existing IT contracts to end in June, before renewing old infrastructure at Parliamentarian electorate offices, including the installation of Wi-Fi.

The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) is waiting for existing IT contracts to end in June, before renewing old infrastructure at Parliamentarian electorate offices, including the installation of Wi-Fi.

Parliament

(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)

In September last year, DPS took over the responsibility for procuring and managing IT and communications equipment in the electorate offices of elected members of Parliament. While Senators, at budget estimates hearings today, questioned when devices, such as iPads, would be provided to the office as part of an MP's entitlement, DPS assistant secretary David Kenny said the department was currently focused on much more fundamental matters.

"Most of our effort in the last few months has been in relation to the contracts we inherited, which are terminating at the end of June. I think, one of them we've had to extend," he said. "So, we've gone out to tender for the communications links. And, we're also looking at having to replace quite a lot of old equipment, which is at the end of its lease and certainly not able to support the sorts of software that we need to install, to be compatible with Parliament House. And that's where our priority has been."

"We have some quite urgent work that needs to be done, because of the age of the current equipment that you have. The equipment, some of it is over four years old, some of it is newer, but it is the older stuff that worries us."

Kenny said that a decision on whether MPs would be able to get newer technology for their electorate offices, will likely be made in response to a DPS review of IT, which is to be launched in February and due to report in late July or early August. Until then, Parliamentarians are still able to claim their personal iPads through the Department of Finance, as they would their smartphones.

Under the current arrangement with DPS, network connectivity in electorate offices is not provided via Wi-Fi. Greens Senator Richard DiNatale noted that MPs can use their electorate allowance to buy Wi-Fi equipment, but it takes away funding for other electorate items. David Kenny said that the current tender for the communications services didn't specifically mention Wi-Fi, but the tender winner could be called upon to provide Wi-Fi services, later down the track.

The main issue with getting Wi-Fi today, Kenny said, was what the department saw as security issues associated with the service. He said a lot of planning went into installing Wi-Fi in Parliament House.

"The wireless technology in Parliament House is several million dollars worth of cables and wireless equipment and security planning, to ensure it is not able to be accessed by people who shouldn't be accessing it," he said.

"It's not a question of whether we can make it work; it's a question of whether we can make it work securely and reliably."

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