Peak Australian IT lobby group the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has set out its priorities for the upcoming September 2012 election, stating that parties of all political persuasions should be focusing on addressing the skills shortage and use of IT in Australia.
The group, which represents 400 companies in Australia, including Apple, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Telstra, Data#3, Technology One, and Oakton, yesterday released its election strategy (PDF) for what the organisation is calling a "SmartICT approach".
The six points for the AIIA's election platform outline a number of areas that the group believes Australia can improve its global standing in IT.
For starters, the AIIA has said that all government initiatives should be required to use the national broadband infrastructure, open access to government data should be the default, and by 2020, 90 percent of citizens should be dealing with the government online.
The AIIA has also said that startups in Australia should be encouraged by changing the way that employee share options are taxed. The group stated that employees are taxed at the point a share and option grant is made and before the employee can benefit from that share. The AIIA has suggested that the valuation and taxation component at the initial granting stage leads to many companies not giving their employees share options, and it has suggested that taxing should be shifted to the point of cash gain by the employee.
Thirdly, the AIIA has said that Australia needs to lift the number of small to medium businesses with an online presence up to 90 percent, up from 50 percent for small businesses and 70 percent of medium-sized businesses today.
"Given the critical function they play in Australia's economy, and specifically in supporting Australia's labour market, it is imperative that small and medium sized businesses are digitally enabled and capable," the AIIA said.
Contrary to the government's criticism of the 457 visa program to recruit temporary foreign workers, the AIIA has said that this scheme should continue to be used to address the IT skills shortage in Australia.
"Australia is on the brink of a damaging ICT skills shortage," the AIIA said. "The shortage of ICT professionals for the last quarter of 2012 remains very high."
There was a continuing shortage of IT graduates out of Australian universities in large part because less than 20 percent of Year 12 students study maths, science, technology, and engineering subjects, the AIIA said.
While education in these areas should be encouraged, the AIIA said that the problem faced today was a threat that needed to be addressed through the 457 visa program.
The gap between demand for and supply of ICT skills threatens Australia's export and productivity gains, innovation capacity, and employment growth across the sector," the AIIA said.
"While, arguably, [the 457 program is] only a stop gap, the program provides much needed relief in addressing the immediate shortfall in ICT skills availability."
The fifth recommendation calls for more tax incentives for research and development, more support for NICTA and the CSIRO.
The final recommendation from the AIIA calls for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to be used to measure IT across the economy and in government.
"It is AIIA's strong contention that you don't value what you don't measure — or you don't measure well enough," the AIIA said.
In launching the document, AIIA CEO Suzanne Campbell said that the value of the IT sector to Australia was as strong as some of the better known contributors.
"The ICT industry contributes as much to Australia’s economy as the mining sector, and only marginally less than the manufacturing, finance, and insurance sectors. It is a substantial contributor to the Australian economy and the high standard of living that Australians enjoy," Campbell said.
"Infrastructure, government commitment to using ICT, skills and education, R&D and innovation incentives, and a framework that monitors, measures, and reports our performance to ensure sustained relevance and competitiveness are all critical to ensuring Australia is a competitive player in the global digital economy."