Rudd awakening: Govt's plans for ICT

Rudd awakening: Govt's plans for ICT

Summary: 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?

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...only achieve the desired cost savings, if their approach doesn't cause a departmental backlash.

"It would be a mistake to repeat the kind of forced march to outsourcing we saw under the previous government," Hodgkinson says. "Clearly there are opportunities for cost savings, and better support to be provided through government agencies, however, it needs to be delivered in a measured kind of way if it is going to get the support of departmental secretaries."

Carr's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research has similarly announced a wide-ranging review of Australia's national innovation system to be conducted by an expert panel chaired by science and technology strategist Dr Terry Cutler.

Talking up his approach, Carr told ZDNet.com.au that the innovation review demonstrated the new government's commitment to the ICT sector, and its role within the economy.

"Innovation is key to the growth of ICT companies and ICT innovation is key to the growth of the wider economy," Carr said. "The National Innovation Review is designed to provide a roadmap for innovation and its many elements including ICT."

But, it seems, ICT innovation is in limbo with NICTA left hanging precariously between Carr's Department of Innovation, and Stephen Conroy's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. While its funding has been assured up to 2012, its trans-departmental management will leave it at the mercy of turf warfare between the different departments, according to Liberal ICT spokesperson Senator Eric Abetz.

"The government is in a bit of a muddle with NICTA," Abetz told ZDNet.com.au. "They've split it up across Senator Carr and Senator Conroy — they don't like each other, they don't trust each other, and whoever made the decision to NICTA hanging like that must have a sense of humour."

Whoever made the decision to NICTA hanging like that must have a sense of humour.

Senator Eric Abetz, Liberal ICT spokesperson

Early wins
While the ICT sector is nervously awaiting the outcomes of both reviews, and getting a little impatient to see pre-election promises delivered upon, the early signs appear promising.

Although the opposition has launched an attack claiming schools have not been provided with necessary infrastructure to support new PCs, the first machines have been delivered to needy high schools, and the states have busied themselves in integrating the program into their tender processes.

The ICT sector, despite having espoused similar concerns as the opposition, is largely in support of the program.

"We are applauding this kind of big thinking and are pleased to see the projects are going ahead," offered Ian Birks, CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association. "The education revolution is not just about getting the PCs into schools, it's also about supporting teachers and providing the extra infrastructure as well, and we'd like to see more movement on that front as well."

Conroy has also been quick off the mark. Within days of taking office, he reaffirmed the new government's commitment to the construction of the network, initially announcing the tender process would be completed by June 2008.

I can't see them achieving a competitive telecommun- ications market without confronting Telstra.

Paul Budde, MD of telecommunications research group BuddeComm

However, the tender has already raised a few eyebrows with calls for extensions to the tender deadline which were finally heard, and accusations the tender was not fair or specific enough.

"The sounds the Rudd government has been making are all very interesting, but good and decisive action is needed," said Paul Budde, MD of telecommunications research group BuddeComm. "We should start to see clear policy direction: it doesn't need to be rushed, but we need to see the project is walking forward."

Budde also suggests that the government remains in a honeymoon phase in terms of its relationship with Telstra, and that at some stage it will be forced to confront the telecommunications behemoth.

"Telstra are quiet at the moment which is an indication they are happy," Budde says. "But unless the government comes out with strong policies to support competition, Telstra will maintain its position of dominance in the market, and I can't see them achieving a competitive telecommunications market without confronting Telstra."

The opposition has had ample opportunity to attack the government on the basis of poor planning, mismanagement and inexperience.

Describing Conroy as "the dog who caught the car", Abetz told ZDNet.com.au that the government's scrapping of the previous government's AU$958 million OPEL agreement was evidence it had failed to develop a genuine vision for Australia.

"There's been a lot of talk and a lot of hype but not much otherwise," Abetz said. "Senator Conroy is finding it's very easy to attack the government from opposition, but being in government is a lot harder."

The verdict? Wait and see
With the investment in broadband and digital education on one side, and the economic conservatism on the other, the Gershon and Cutler reviews could tip the balance in any direction.

"A lot of what we're seeing at the moment is symbolic, and it's indicating a general direction, but we'd like to see more action on the ground, and more actual investment so the benefits of ICT can be realised throughout the economy," concludes the AIIA's Birks.

Topics: Government, CXO, Government AU, Reviews

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