Offshoring takes centre stage in election

Coalition ICT Minister Helen Coonan yesterday delivered a vigorous reply to Labor's IT industry policy announcement, claiming the opposition was trying to "freeze Australia in time" over its approach to off-shoring.

Coalition ICT Minister Helen Coonan yesterday delivered a vigorous reply to Labor's IT industry policy announcement, claiming the opposition was trying to "freeze Australia in time" over its approach to off-shoring.

Last week, Labor ICT spokesperson, Kate Lundy said a Labor government would make federal agencies adhere to a best-practice checklist before considering outsourcing, to prevent ill-considered decisions to move IT jobs outside Australia.

Launching the government's own ICT policy at a media event yesterday Coonan re-affirmed the government's "light touch" approach to government agencies and businesses wishing to engage in off-shoring exercises.

She said that the checklist was commendable but would remain optional under a re-elected coalition government.

"I believe that the glass can be half full when it comes to outsourcing; that Australia stands to benefit from on-shoring [whereby multinational companies base operations in Australia] rather than the scaremonger predictions of off-shoring decimating Australia's ICT industry," said Coonan.

Gartner principal analyst Rolf Jester said that the research company was broadly in agreement with the government's view.

"We should say Australia is an 'on-shoring' centre," said Jester.

Jester said that blocking companies from using offshore labour could actually damage the industry if overseas governments were to retaliate with embargoes on locally developed IT products.

However he said that government still had a role to play in tooling the industry to attract investment.

"It's the talent that attracts the investment, not lower costs," he said.

ICT sector development is one of the hot topics of debate as the election day draws closer.

The Minister's policy speech was received by some present at the address as "more of the same".

The Minister defended the government's raft of company and industry development schemes, decrying Labor's plan to dismantle Invest Australia to save AU$11 million as "incomprehensible and indefensible".

However the Minister did flag the possibility of a review of the performance of its incubator strategy. Coonan said the government would conduct a "scoping exercise" to test the performance of "business angel networks," whereby experienced entrepreneurs offer advice to start-ups, to see if it can better match money to "appropriate businesses".

Coonan also attacked the shadow ministry's plan to overhaul the government's administration of IT, which would include moving it from its current ministerial portfolio position alongside communications and under the more general banner of industry, and the reorganisation of two government IT agencies under a new group, E-Australia.

Echoing industry concerns, she said it would fragment responsibility for industry and water down the industry's ability to bargain with government.

Coonan also accused Labor of dressing up an AU$16 million annual cut in funding for the Australian Government Information Management Office and the Office of the Information Economy as AU$69.3 million in new spending.

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