The Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, made the remarks during a speech to the CeBIT trade show in Sydney this morning. They come amid rising concern from civil libertarians and some politicians over government initiatives such as the planned health and welfare access card.
Nairn said 22 years after the launch of the Apple Mac in 1984, the proliferation of personal computing, the Internet and podcasting had generated "greater freedom of speech and expression than any time on earth -- at least for most Western countries.
"The only Big Brother we have is a TV show where the public, not the government, manage somehow to get entertained by the antics of 12 housemates.
"If George Orwell was alive today, I'm sure he would be a regular blogger on cyberspace," he added.
However, Nairn's comments came as Democrats Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja labelled the government's AU$1.09 billion, four-year smart card plan as "one very expensive, very intrusive Big Brother."
"The government has done nothing in the budget to reassure Australians about the privacy and financial implication of such a scheme," Stott-Despoja said in a prepared statement.
Public embrace e-government
Nairn told CeBIT a forthcoming report to be released on Australians' use of and satisfaction with e-government services demonstrated a significant increase in uptake.
He said the percentage of people who conducted almost all of their dealings with government over the Internet had risen from 14 percent in 2004-05 to 19 percent in 2006, with the bulk of that increase coming from metropolitan Internet users.
The percentage of adult Australians who had accessed a government service via the Internet had risen from 39 percent in 2004-05 to 48 percent in 2006.
Budget billions based on ICT
Nairn said the government had approved 33 measures in last night's budget with a value over four years of AU$2.7 billion "which have significant components of ICT".
As well as major projects such as the smart card plan and a massive upgrade of Department of Immigration systems, the government had also allocated AU$29.6 million for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources authentication portal, which would expand the business.gov.au Web site "and enable business and individuals to undertake online transactions with government more securely and cost-effectively."
Another AU$90 million had been allocated to a Department of Foreign Affairs project to boost government capacity to deliver consular assistance and crisis response to Australians overseas. The project includes an upgrade of consular information systems.
Others include a project by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to implement electronic registration of company charges, an Australian Public Service program to establish a recruitment portal and the Department of Health and Ageing's national electronic health records system project.
Nairn also said the Australian Government Information Management Office and the Department of Finance and Administration would be involved in reviews of the health and welfare access card implementation.