Election 2010: ICT community weighs in

Now that the election has been called, ICT industry groups are waiting with bated breath to see how the campaigns of both parties play out.
Written by Luke Hopewell, Contributor

Now that the election has been called, ICT industry groups are waiting with bated breath to see how the campaigns of both parties play out.

ZDNet Australia spoke to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS) about the need for national broadband infrastructure, Australia's place in the global digital economy and the role of IT policy in the lead-up to an election.


The ICT community has weighed in on the issues that are pulling their focus in the election campaign. (Rock series image by Stefano Tambolo, CC2.0)

National broadband infrastructure

In the months before the election announcement, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey declared that the Coalition would dump the NBN if it formed a government. Now that the election is nigh, the Opposition has as yet not announced a follow-up strategy for implementing national broadband infrastructure.

Yesterday the AustralianIT outlined a strategy presented to it by sources. The strategy involved a three-pronged approach that would see large parts of its former rural OPEL wireless network revived, the continuation of Labor's backhaul blackspots program and more power allocated to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to deal with issues. However, formally the party has not announced anything.

"The lack of a credible alternative [to the NBN] in the Opposition's position really causes a lot of angst for the ICT industry I think. It's not just about the infrastructure within our industry, it's the foundation for a more competitive and productive economy in the future. If the Opposition doesn't recognise that, then that's a problem," AIIA CEO Ian Birks told ZDNet Australia.

"Obviously, the NBN is Labor's solution and if we were to see an equally strong commitment to ubiquitous high-speed broadband from the Opposition, then we would support that as well. At the moment we can't see that," Birks added.

Geordie Guy, spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia, said that his organisation would like to see some attention to IT infrastructure in general, so that Australia remains competitive. "[Labor] do have the NBN project, but whichever way it goes, the internet is going to be a very important part of Australia's future and it needs to be treated as such, rather than a problem we need to run away from and regulate."

Bruce Lakin, CEO of the Australian Computer Society (ACS), said that the society hoped the Coalition would see the potential presented to the nation by broadband. "If they were to say we don't think that high-speed broadband access is fundamental to Australia then we would take a very vocal opposite position to that."

Australia's digital economy

In the AIIA manifesto, Birks said that policy change is required in order to make Australia more attractive to foreign ICT-related business investors. The document highlighted the need for changes in the areas of capital gains tax, intellectual property treatment, research and development taxes and more foreign investment support from the government to make Australia more attractive.

"You [want to] create an ecosystem whereby people who invest here can see the potential for high returns and a whole policy network that allows them to rapidly grow their opportunities. We're falling behind in the world in those things," said Birks.

ACS's Lakin joined Birks in calling for the establishment of a new minister for productivity who would oversee the implementation of ICT policies across health, education, energy and infrastructure.

Lakin cited an example from the UK whereby Britain installed a minister for e-government, who Lakin believes has successfully overseen the delivery of citizen services across broadband around England.

However, Geordie Guy from EFA noted that the government has already done enough talking, and needs now to get on with building new infrastructure for future investment and digital economy growth.

IT in the election

Guy believed that technology will take a back seat in the 2010 Election, but will become a more important issue for future campaigns.

He noted that more and more younger people were coming into the electoral fold and said that these "digital natives" who have grown up with the internet will be swayed more significantly by IT policies or a lack thereof.

Lakin also believed that IT won't be at the forefront of this election and, to combat this, he has since announced a forum at the National Press Club in Canberra where Labor, Liberal and Greens politicians can present their ICT policies to the nation. The discussion is set to take place on 10 August.

"We're hopeful that this will be a small measure of trying to get a broader discussion on their thoughts of ICT," Lakin said.

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