​Commonwealth lays down guidelines for first round of AU$50m smart-city funding

The federal government has published draft funding rules for round one of its Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor has released draft guidelines on how the federal government will dish out its AU$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

"We're really only starting to realise the full potential of technology in our cities," Taylor said, speaking at the Smart Cities Expo in Sydney on Tuesday. "We're witnessing the rise of autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT), the sharing economy, and so on, [we need] to leverage these smart technologies."

"We know that technology is transforming lives and our economies and cities around the world in a short space of time, we've grown use to having technology all around us, in our homes, in our cars, workplaces, and importantly for today, in our cities."

According to the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program -- Round 1 guidelines, in launching the first round of funding, the government will be handing out at least AU$10 million of its AU$50 million kitty.

Funding recipients will receive a minimum of AU$100,000, capped at AU$1 million, with the grant amount to form up to 50 percent of the total project cost -- which is to be matched.

The proposed model will also see only those with an Australian business number eligible for funding, as well as those that have a local, state, or federal government entity forming part of its solution.

The government wants to see the program fund "collaborative projects that fast track innovative smart technology solutions", that target urban challenges. If unchanged after consultation, projects eligible for funding would need to develop, apply, or implement a solution that is new to the local government area, new to a city or defined region, or new to Australia. If it does not, it would need to deploy existing smart technologies in an innovative way.

"There's enormous potential, I'm convinced, to make our cities work better, to ... alleviate the great problems that we face, and to capture the great opportunities in our cities," Taylor said. "This program is designed to do exactly that and I'm confident these guidelines will form the foundation for a very successful program."

It is expected the program will support projects that are citizen-centric, link closely with strategic plans for the area, and address local needs. Projects eligible for funding under the program are expected to be the likes of app-based infrastructure wear and tear detection platforms, automatic dispatch of maintenance crews, as well as computer generated programs that support or enhance city services.

As a result of the smart city program, the government believes the targeted cities will become more "liveable" by applying smart technology solutions to urban issues, engaging citizens, and opening access to public data.

Although pointing to how other jurisdictions have already embarked on their smart city journeys, Taylor told ZDNet he was not concerned with the speed Australia has jumped in to regulate such a movement.

"We're great innovators in this country and we have no shortage of people that are interested in this space. There is a lot happening already that doesn't require government. Most entrepreneurs get on with their work without government; what this is about is accelerating it," he said.

"Engagement from local council and the federal government enables a couple of things: One is that it enables these things to be applied, and that's incredibly important, the process of commercialising technology is difficult, fraught, but incredibly important. Secondly, so many of these technologies require some role from government, often regulatory, and it enables us to see, have transparency with what changes we need to make for these technologies to roll out."

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will be responsible for administering the program that was officially announced in April.

At the time, Taylor said the goal was to encourage local government to partner with tech experts to make cities and suburbs more liveable, sustainable, and productive.

In August, Taylor announced he would be hosting public-private roundtable sessions focused on encouraging local councils to improve its suburbs and cities through the use of technology.

"The Smart Cities and Suburbs Program is to support clever technology ideas to fix difficult or long-standing community issues. The most valuable projects will be transformative collaborations between multiple councils and technology industry partners that link closely with future plans for the area," the minister said previously.

"The Commonwealth expects local governments to bring forward a variety of cutting-edge projects such as collaborative design solutions or pilots of emerging technologies."

Initially announced as an election promise, the government said previously it wanted to see local councils be involved in planning, infrastructure, or service initiatives that demonstrate open data, partnerships, and the use of technology, and make measurable improvements to people's quality of life.

"The collaborative approach we've now taken across three levels of government is in our cities policy, which I think is unique. Only really the UK is doing the same as what we're doing and that I think provides us with an opportunity to lead rather than to follow," Taylor added on Tuesday.

In September, the federal government launched Hypercat Australia, the local arm of a United Kingdom-developed alliance and standard that enables free communication from any connected IoT sensor or device being used to monitor an environment.

Hypercat Australia is being established as an independent, not-for-profit organisation that will be administered by the Knowledge Economy Institute led by Dr Mike Briers, Australia's first industry professor of IoT at the University of Technology Sydney.

"Hypercat Australia is one such partnership which will allow a platform to facilitate cutting-edge technology solutions to be applied to urban problems," Taylor said previously.

Submissions on the draft program guidelines close on December 13, 2016.

"We're looking forward to getting the views of service providers, councils, NGOs, and others on those guidelines and how we can get maximum bang for our buck with the AU$50 million we're talking about here," Taylor said.

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