Less than 43 hours out from Australians beginning to vote for the next federal government, the Coalition has announced that the planned AU$42 million in funding promised by Labor to National ICT Australia would be cut under a Coalition government.
In new Treasurer Chris Bowen's economic note released in August, the IT research agency started by the last Coalition government in 2002 was given a boost in funding for 2015 and 2016 by AU$42 million. There had been concern that although funding was allocated out to 2014-15, NICTA's future was in doubt.
Labor's Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy Kate Lundy re-announced the funding several weeks ago, and the proposal was ticked off by the Parliamentary Budget Office.
But NICTA's future is again in doubt now, after the cutting of the AU$42 million guaranteed to the ICT Centre of Excellence, which funds NICTA, was announced by Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb amongst a number of cuts aimed to improve the Budget bottom line by AU$6 billion and reduce government debt by AU$16 billion.
NICTA has been approached for comment. The organisation employs 580 researchers and technical and professional staff members, and 260 PhD students working across 30 projects.
Lundy told ZDNet in a statement that the cut in funding will mean NICTA will have to wind down its research.
"Cutting $42 million will prevent NICTA from taking on new PhD students and committing to new partnerships with business and other research organisations. This cuts NICTA’s core research functions and will essentially force NICTA to start winding down its research program," she said.
"NICTA has demonstrated how its research can benefit the bottom line of industry sectors such as transport and infrastructure and contribute to social outcomes in health and education. Cutting NICTA means cutting innovative health research. Cutting NICTA means our next innovative research idea.
"This signals a retreat from supporting the expertise and knowledge we need to take a wide range of Australian industries into the digital era."
The Coalition has also indicated that it intends to reduce the public service by a further 0.25 percent to save AU$428 million.
The party claims that through lower equity injections to NBN Co and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a future Coalition government would save AU$9.9 billion, and AU$1.3 billion in interest payments.