The New South Wales government handed down its 2021-22 Budget on Tuesday, revealing that digital initiatives across the state will receive handsome handouts.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the state's "secret weapon" to economic recovery from COVID-19 has been its digital government platform, which he claimed was "light-years ahead of the competition". Off the back of this praise, the state government noted in its Budget papers [PDF] that it would pour an additional half a billion dollars over three years into its Digital Restart Fund, which is aimed at lifting whole-of-government digital capabilities.
"That takes our investment to transform digital services for our citizens to AU$2.1 billion," Perrottet said.
Using the additional investment for the Digital Restart Fund, the Ministry of Health will be able to commence phase one of building its single digital patient record; Department of Customer Service will be able to establish its digital platform for certification registries as part of its eConstruction initiative; and the cybersecurity capabilities of the Department of Education, Planning Industry and Environment, Premier and Cabinet, Communities and Justice, Police, Transport for NSW, and the Ministry of Health will be lifted.
Under the Digital Restart Fund, AU$500,000 will also be invested towards the design and development of a new database for the NSW Pet Registry.
Meanwhile, the Data Analytics Centre will receive AU$38.3 million over four years to provide additional insight that will inform state policy decisions.
The Department of Customer Service is set to benefit from a AU$130 million funding boost, the Budget showed. The largest share, according to Minister of Customer Service Victor Dominello, will go towards the work of Service NSW.
"We want to save customers time and money when interacting with government, and technology is a critical part of the solution as we've seen with the Service NSW app, the NSW QR Code system, and Dine and Discover vouchers," he said.
"This funding also allows us to build on popular products like the Digital Driver Licence, FuelCheck, and Park'nPay, while also uplifting our cyber and information security systems."
The Budget also provides AU$660 million in funding to complete the state-wide rollout of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP). Under the CCEP, the state government has been developing the public safety network to provide emergency services organisations with a single radio communications network. This latest funding will be the fourth tranche of funding the government has committed to the program since 2016.
"The final 318 (of 675) radio sites will be constructed and brought online delivering full state coverage. Network land coverage will increase from 47% to 85% of New South Wales and an increase in coverage of the state's population from 96.0% to 99.7%," the Budget papers said.
At the same time, Investment NSW has been allocated AU$416 million, of which AU$35 million will be invested into an entrepreneurship and innovation fund to "promote new ideas, design, and investment while creating sustainable jobs in targeted sectors, precincts, and regional New South Wales".
The state government noted Tech Central and the Westmead Health and Innovation District will each receive AU$10 million. Tech Central will put the funds towards supporting investments, deep tech innovation infrastructure, and a program that will help develop talent needed to address the current tech skills gap.
Westmead Health will use the cash to establish new infrastructure that will house a shared lab space and incubator for startups that are looking to commercialise research in biotechnology, diagnostics, and digital health.
Furthermore, AU$500 million will be handed out to lift the spend on digital health initiatives, including virtual care and telehealth, while more than AU$214.3 million will be used to boost NSW Ambulance services by upgrading in-ambulance defibrillators that improve electronic medical record integration capabilities between NSW Ambulance and hospital emergency departments across the state.
The state government has also signalled its support for regional and rural Australia with a AU$198 million digital connectivity package that will be invested into initiatives such as the Gig State project, the expanded Farms of the Future program, and the mobile coverage project.
Looking at how NSW could better engage with the global community, the state government will fork out AU$87.5 million to target industry development programs in key industries such as space, medtech, cyber, fintech, regtech, and agtech.
When it comes to education, New South Wales school teachers will soon have access to a new online portal designed to support them in delivering the school curriculum. The interactive digital portal is part of the NSW government's move to overhaul the state curriculum under a four-year $196.6 million package.
"The new portal will help teachers integrate syllabus materials and deliver lessons driven by the latest research and resources, meeting the needs of our students in a way we have never been able to do before," Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said.
"The new curriculum and the portal will save time for teachers, improve clarity, and make the implementation of the syllabuses even easier. The investment will allow teachers to unlock the curriculum's potential while arming them with the best resources, multiplying the positive impacts of the reform."
It will be the first major rewrite of the NSW curriculum in 30 years, according to the state government.
The new platform currently under development is set to go live in Term 4, 2021 along with new kindergarten to year 2 English and mathematics syllabuses.
Additionally, AU$19 million will be invested into refreshing video conferencing and computer facilities at TAFE campuses across the state.
The state government has also set aside a further AU$268.2 million as part of its response to the NSW bushfire inquiry.
Of that total package, AU$5.2 million will be used for additional drones for firefighting operations, AU$19.9 million will fund the upgrade of the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) dispatch systems, and AU$10.6 million for the implementation of a new National Fire Danger Rating System.
"This commitment will bolster the future of our fire agencies and preparedness of communities, many of whom of have personally witnessed the devastating effects of fire," Perrotet said.
This latest announcement follows the state government dedicating a total of AU$28 million over four years as part of the 2021-22 Budget into research and development of new technologies and industries to help NSW tackle future bushfires.
Perrottet said the funding would be evenly split into AU$7 million chunks under the NSW Bushfire Response R&D Mission.
Under the mission, the funding will be used to establish a bushfire technology network for researchers, investors, and industry, as well as work with local small businesses to develop and commercialise bushfire technologies through an early-stage Bushfire Technology Fund to ensure the new technologies are tested by NSW's frontline bushfire services.
Other funding announcements in the state Budget included an additional AU$1 million to enable the development of an interpreting mobile phone application, which will link police and emergency services in the field with on-the-spot interpreters in order to provide timely interpreting support when needed.