Aust govt commits AU$30m for online portal

The Australian government will spend AU$29.7 million over the next four years to provide better online services to the public.

Despite a weaker global economy impacting government tax receipts to the tune of a AU$4 billion write-down, the Australian government has announced funding for several IT projects, including AU$29.7 million for online government services, as part of its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).

MYEFO (PDF) is released towards the middle of the financial year to outline changes to the Federal government's budget since its release in May. In the report released today by Treasurer Wayne Swan, the government admitted that it has had to make AU$16.4 billion in savings in order to ensure that the government will reach an underlying cash surplus in 2013 of AU$1.1 billion.

The biggest IT spend is AU$29.7 million over four years for a multi-agency ICT framework "that gives customers more convenient access to online Commonwealth services," starting with Human Services.

The agency was given AU$157.6 million in the 2011-2012 budget for a single online portal for Centrelink, Medicare, and the Child Support Agency, but this new service will allow users to update their details across government agencies at once, and receive messages from the government through an "online digital inbox."

AU$26.1 million of the funding for the program will come from existing resources within Human Services. The remaining money will come from other agencies participating in the project.

The government will again spend AU$20 million this financial year to "address misconceptions and provide updated information about the National Broadband Network" — this will be the second year in a row. This campaign will be focused on areas in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, where fibre will be rolled out.

In the last financial year, NBN Co increased its own communications and marketing campaign spending from AU$2.6 million to AU$11.2 million.

Another AU$27.5 million will be spent over the next four years on pre-construction efforts for the Square-Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which is being shared between Australia and South Africa . According to the government, funding for this had already been included in the funding announced for last year's budget .

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will receive AU$2.1 million to begin tracking online retail spending. According to the MYEFO, the ABS will be able to track the online sales to Australian consumers of both domestic and international online retailers.

The government is expecting to make AU$549.5 million in savings over the next four years through "pursuing further efficiencies in the way the public service operates." Defence, the Department of the Senate, and the Department of the House of Representatives are excluded from this savings program.

Finance Minister Penny Wong announced late last month that most of these savings will come from reduced use of contractors and consultants, shifting to online advertising for recruitment, reductions in air travel spending, and reducing printing costs.