The federal government on Tuesday night handed down its 2019-20 Budget, opening its wallet to a less-than conservative technology spend, starting with handing "science and tech" -- covering space infrastructure, innovation games, research and development, and digital transformation -- AU$9 billion.
AU$19.5 million over four years will be provided under this kitty, described by Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as "backing the industries of the future", to set up a Space Infrastructure Fund to support projects aimed at accelerating Australia's space industry.
The investment will be driven by the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028, and follows last year's Australian Space Agency launch.
AU$2 million of this funding will be for the delivery of future world-class space manufacturing capability in New South Wales; and AU$6 million for a Mission Control Centre in South Australia, where the newly stood up space agency is housed.
The government expects this money will triple the size of the Australian space sector to AU$12 billion and increase employment to 30,000 jobs by 2030.
AU$3.6 million over the next two years will see the government trial the small business-focused "Innovation Games"; while AU$15.1 million over the next three years will be used to expand Canberra-based science and technology centre Questacon's "education and outreach activities".
Research-based science initiatives, as well as endeavours to commercialise Australia's research, will take the rest of the funding over the next few years.
CYBER, DEFENCE, AND SECURE ELECTIONS
As the nation is expected to soon head into a federal election, protecting the Australian election system is one of the items on the Coalition's agenda, with funding to be given to provide a whole-of-government "cyber uplift".
While the numbers aren't published for national security reasons, the Budget papers said the funding would "enhance cybersecurity arrangements for whole-of-government systems in relation to the 2019 Federal election, and to mitigate potential cyber threats through enhanced monitoring and response capabilities".
The cyber spending will include the creation of "cyber sprint teams" under the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) as well as a Cyber Security Response Fund.
"The government is bolstering investment in our cyber security strategy to strengthen the defences of government IT systems to address key security vulnerabilities and improve our ability to quickly respond to cyber attacks," the Budget documents said, pointing to the April 2016-released Cyber Security Strategy.
The nation's spy and law enforcement agencies will also get a funding boost, with AU$34.8 million allocated to counter foreign interference, part of which will be used to establish a Foreign Interference Threat Assessment Centre, and will be operated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Meanwhile, under the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Foreign Signals Intelligence, Cyber Security and Offensive Cyber Operations program will expend around AU$4 billion through to 2023.
Further, as part of its AU$525.3 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package, the government will also be developing training packages across skills including IT, communications, and cybersecurity.
Where the conduct of elections is concerned, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will be given AU$10.8 million over the next two years to upgrade its IT infrastructure and implement more polling place technology.
It will specifically see the AEC "approach the market to scope the deployment of new polling place technology and upgrades to the AEC's ageing core ICT infrastructure".
FURTHERING EXISTING TECH
In a bid to avoid a repeat of the confluence of failure that was the 2016 Census, the Budget has allocated an additional AU$38.3 million over the next three years to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to deliver the 2021 Census.
The funding to the ABS is aimed at preventing any issues similar to those during the 2016 Census debacle, which refers to how the ABS had experienced a series of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated, which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions in August 2016.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs will also gain AU$82.4 million in funding over the next four years to expand data being collected through the Single Touch Payroll program.
As of July 1, 2020, income support recipients will report fortnightly on their income, with this data to be shared with the Department of Human Services (DHS) -- the government agency that executed the data-matching initiative that has colloquially become known as "robo-debt".
The federal government's contentious My Health Record has also been given an additional AU$200 million in 2019-20 to continue the deployment of the system.
The Coalition will also continue developing its digital identity program GovPass with AU$67.1 million funding.
The funding will be split between the ATO, DHS, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), and the Department of Finance. The first two government departments are responsible for operating and hosting the digital identity system's components.
"GovPass enables the creation of a digital identity for Australian citizens, which will allow them to access government services online," the Budget documents said, echoing remarks made by the government previously.
With concerns over its capacity to handle an expanded remit, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is gaining AU$25.1 million in additional resourcing over the next three years to "facilitate timely responses to privacy complaints and support strengthened enforcement action in relation to social media and other online platforms that breach privacy regulations".
AU$5.2 million is also being given to the Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities portfolio to design a freight data hub for data collection, protection, dissemination, and hosting; and AU$3.3 million to establish a freight data exchange pilot so industry can access freight data in real time and survey road usage for freight purposes.
The 2019-20 Budget is also looking to push forward the digitisation of government services, with the National Library of Australia being given AU$10 million over the next four years -- AU$2.5 million each year -- to set up a Digitisation Fund.
The government is also providing AU$2.9 million over three years for innovation across the agriculture industry.
A FOCUS ON WOMEN
"This program supports a series of trials to test new technologies or innovative uses of existing technologies to improve the safety of women and children affected by family and domestic violence," the Budget papers explain.
Included in the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022 is AU$64 million that will go towards updating online services and phone resources; and part of a AU$110.9 million funding envelope to deliver Australia's first prevention hub and social media platform The Line.
In addition, AU$4 million is being provided to the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) to identify, report, and support victims of technology-facilitated abuse in women with intellectual disabilities and those among "high-risk" Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to enable these groups to better protect themselves online.
The government is also looking towards improving online safety for children, providing AU$10 million over the next four years to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to start up a new Online Safety Grants Program to deliver online safety education and training projects for children by non-government organisations.
Also on the agenda for Canberra is "life-saving technologies", with AU$5 billion to be set aside for its 10-year investment plan for the Medical Research Future Fund across health innovation development, clinical trials, and medical research.
Meanwhile, the monthly charge to fixed-line broadband customers to subsidise those connecting to the loss-making National Broadband Network (NBN) satellite and fixed-wireless services has been reduced from AU$10 to AU$7.10, however the charge is set to rise with inflation.
How much of the Budget becomes enacted remains to be seen, as the government is expected to call a May election this weekend.
Australian Budget 2019 Coverage
- Australian Budget 2019: Whole-of-government cyber uplift to create 'cyber sprint teams'
- Australian Budget 2019: AU$9b for tech and science
- Australian Budget 2019: Census 2021 gets AU$38m to 'address issues from 2016'
- Australian Budget 2019: GovPass gains another AU$67m
- Australian Budget 2019: Women's safety technology trials
- Australian Budget 2019: NBN regional subsidy charge reduced
- Australian Budget 2019: Electoral Commission gets AU$11m for polling place tech and IT upgrades
- Australian Budget 2019: Billions for health innovation and research