Ahead of the election, with promises for nationwide broadband networks and digital revolutions in schools, the ICT industry could hope the government was on their side. But now the glamour of a sparkling new government has worn off, how ICT-friendly is the Rudd government really?
When you change the government, you change the country
"When you change the government, you change the country," offered former Prime Minister Paul Keating upon his defeat by the Howard-led coalition in the 1996 election. Has the last six months and the Lodge's latest change of inhabitants meant a change in the ICT landscape?
The 'yes, but' budget
Under the inaugural Labor budget, the previous government's Commercial Ready grants got the chop, saving AU$707 million, while AU$251 million will be spent on the innovation and productivity Enterprise Connect program, while AU$240 million is targeted at a green Clean Business initiative over four years.
The small to mid business sector was targeted through a Small Business Advisory Committee to monitor regulatory proposals that may affect SMEs, as well as AU$42 million over four years to start up 36 Business Enterprise Centres. Meanwhile, AU$326 million over four years is to be thrown at the brain drain, financing 1000 Future Fellowships in an attempt to keep mid-career researchers in Australia.
The budget also funded the government's pre-election commitments in the areas of broadband and the National Secondary School Computer Fund.
The billion dollar National Secondary School Computer Fund promised new computers and better internet access for all schools across Australia while a 50 per cent rebate on domestic IT purchases tackled the question of affordable computers in homes, both in an attempt to improve Australian computer literacy.
The second big pitch to be confirmed in the budget was the AU$4.7 billion targeted at creating a national high-speed broadband fibre-to-the-node network, covering 98 per cent of the Australian population.Federal Finance, Innovation and Communications Ministers Lindsey Tanner, Kim Carr and Stephen Conroy have been doing their best to present the 2008 budget as a win for innovation, technology and communications infrastructure, and so far it seems to be working.
Overall, the industry was fairly positive in its response to some of the new initiatives, however, the ICT sector would like to see still more strategic direction backed by spending. The Australian Computer Society welcomed the new investments but called for better long term thinking.
It would be a mistake to repeat the kind of forced march to outsourcing we saw under the previous government.
Steve Hodgkinson, Ovum research director
"There are some significant wins for the technology sector within the budget and the ACS is a strong supporter of the government's investment in broadband. However, the government, as part of its current investment strategy, also needs to recognise the ICT sector as a major area of future growth, and a powerful industry that is a powerful economic sector in its own right. The challenge for the ICT sector right now is more about focus than funding," said ACS national president, Kumar Parakala, in his budget response.
Uncertainty reigns in the form of Gershon, Cutler
However, Rudd's big ticket spending increases are being balanced by planned cuts in government procurement spending, as well as questions surrounding the future funding of research centre NICTA.
Earlier in the year, Tanner imported Sir Peter Gershon from the UK, to complete a review of ICT procurement practices, aimed at slashing the Federal government's AU$16 billion ICT spend.
"Gershon's approach in the UK was largely consultative, and provided procedural roadmaps, which dealt with the rationalisation of staff, and asking departments to take responsibility with achieving higher levels of efficiency in terms of the deployment of ICT," said IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick. "Fundamentally it's a review that delivers costs savings while improving front-line capability, mostly through back office consolidation, staff cuts, bringing more services online, and moving people into more productive roles."
Recalling the previous government's disastrous experiment with IT outsourcing, Steve Hodgkinson, research director for the public sector at research group Ovum, predicts the current government will...