Australian Budget 2013: IT system tweaks, expansions, and new centres

Despite the tough economic times, there were a number of big IT winners in this year's federal Budget.

The federal Budget handed down on Tuesday contained a number of key investments in IT systems across several portfolios, including the departments of defence, innovation, attorney-general, and finance.

The Labor federal government had hoped to deliver a slim surplus this financial year ahead of the election in September, but due to a tax revenue writedown of AU$17 billion in the 2012-13 financial year, the government abandoned its surplus goal. It will instead report a deficit of AU$18 billion in 2013-14.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said in his speech delivered in parliament on Tuesday evening that although there would be AU$43 billion in savings over the forward estimates, the government does not want to head down the path of austerity.

"To those who would take us down the European road of savage austerity, I say the social destruction that comes from cutting too much, too hard, too fast is not the Australian way," he said.

The savings will be achieved, among other methods, by closing loopholes to ensure that multinationals are not being given an unfair advantage, Swan said.

While the Budget belt has been tightened, and IT investments were smaller than in previous years, a number of agencies were able to get their investments through.

The government's Telepresence scheme will be expanded, with AU$19.3 million provided over the next five years. The program, which has widely been viewed as a great success within the government in reducing travel costs through the use of Cisco video conferencing equipment, will be significantly increased to allow more meetings to be held across more locations.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) will receive AU$16.1 million over the next four years to build a new datacentre. The datacentre will be home to all of AUSTRAC's IT systems and records, but the existing datacentre will be maintained for testing and development, and will be used as a disaster recovery facility.

The Australian Research Council will get AU$14.2 million over the next four years to replace its IT system that will look to automate more functions, integrate several systems, and have a new electronic document records management system.

"The new ICT system will deliver to the research sector a modern and efficient application process, supporting the full lifecycle of grant applications, management, and reporting," the Budget document stated.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC's) iview — its TV online replay service — is set to get better, with the broadcaster getting AU$30 million over three years to improve online services. This will include a pilot of live-streamed ABC radio and TV content, and an increase in the quality of iview streaming. The quality of the iview stream has been criticised in the past, as the content is currently only able to be streamed in standard definition.

The ABC was one of the big winners in the Budget, scoring AU$89.4 million over three years.

As part of a push against organised crime and gang violence, there will be AU$9.1 million invested over four years for a new Australian Ballistics Identification Network for ballistics analysis of firearms. CrimTrac will set up a network to allow police across Australia to access a database of collected ballistics information from weapons used in crime.

As part of an AU$30.2 million investment in a new National Border Targeting Centre to oversee incoming passengers and cargo into Australia, funding will be provided to upgrade IT equipment to analyse data that will be shared amongst border protection agencies.

To get businesses using AUSkey, the secure credential for accessing online services of the Australian Business Register, and to improve the upfront checks in issuing Australian Business Numbers, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Finance will be given AU$80.2 million in funding over the forward estimates.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) will get AU$7.8 million for the establishment of the online National Business Names registration system.

The Department of Defence has outlined that through re-profiling of funding, it will be able to invest AU$91 million in additional funding for IT.

It isn't all spending for IT, however. The shift to online tendering, the use of whole-of-government panels, and multi-use lists are expected to reduce the cost of supplying services to the government. It has been estimated that there will be AU$68.4 million in savings over four years through these improvements.

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) will have slightly less expenses in the 2013-14 financial year, going from AU$28.3 million down to AU$26.6 million.

The government funded the Digital Education Revolution program in the last financial year with AU$200 million, and has now supplied over 967,000 computers to year 9 to year 12 students across Australia. The agreement with the states over the funding of this program ends on June 30, 2013, and no new agreement has yet been signed. AU$4 million has been set aside in this year's Budget to fund Digital Education Revolution-related projects.