The Federal government has pledged $308 million in ICT funding as part of its $5.3 billion new science and innovation package.
Outgoing communications and IT Minister, Daryl Williams, announced the initiative at technology tradeshow, CeBit, which entered its last day in Sydney today.
The package given the rather long-winded title, Backing Australia's Ability-Building Our Future Through Science and Innovation was also unveiled by the prime minister John Howard at parliament house this morning.
"This $308 million investment along with other strategic investments under the Backing Australia's Ability package will ensure that Australia is in the best position to harness emerging technologies and to remain globally competitive," said Williams.
He added that "this is more than double the amount that was provided to the ICT under the original Backing Australia's Ability package"
The package is set to invest AU$251 million of the funding in the national ICT centre of Australia (NICTA).
Minister Williams stated that the funding will provide support for NICTA to become a "world-scale, leading edge strategic research institution and bolster Australia's competitive advantage in ICT".
"When fully established NICTA will be one of the largest research centres undertaking information communications technology research in Australia," said Minister Williams.
The minister said NICTA's "mission" was now to undertake ICT research at the "highest international standard and scale" and expand on PhD and research commercialisation ventures.
"NICTA is currently undergoing a rapid growth necessary to achieve worldwide capacity in 2005-2006. At March 2004 NICTA had 138 researchers involved in 12 research programs and had provided 72 fully funded scholarships to PHD students. In 2005-2006 NICTA expects to have more than 300 researchers, 17 research programs and 100 PHD students," he said.
Chairman of NICTA, Neville Roach, said he was "honoured and delighted" by today's announcement and that it proved the government iwas serious about the ICT industry.
"It's a huge commitment and I'd like to sincerely congratulate and thank the Minster and the Australian Government for demonstrating through this announcement ...that this government is serious about innovation across the board, serious about science and technology across the board and particularly serious about the industry that all of us work in and love, the ICT industry," said Roach.
Roach conceded that NICTA had been finding it difficult to operate on the five year contract initially set by the government.
"Five years is a short time in terms of the research cycle and frankly we were finding a few things difficult," said Roach. "We were needing to have a longer horizon, and today we have been given that horizon and we can keep going ...with complete confidence and make those long term strategic commitments and deliver the long term strategic benefits."
A further $57 million has also been allocated for the ICT Incubators and Advanced Networks projects under the Building on IT Strengths (BITS) program.
The four year old Incubators Program, which provides fledgling ICT companies with seed capital and mentoring programs, will receive $36 million of the BITS funding.
Williams said the extra funding will extend the program for four years from 2004 to 2008, bringing the total amount of funding received by the ICT Incubator program up to $122 million since 1999.
"11 incubators around Australia were provided with total funding of some $86 million dozens of graduates and numerous industry awards later the Incubators have shown what can be achieved when people with good ideas get together with people who are in the business of making things happen," he said.
The Advanced Network Program (ANP) that was designed to support experimental and high capacity networks will receive $21 million in additional funding.
Minister Williams said the funding extension will allow ANP to continue its projects for three more years from 2004 to 2007, and tally its total funding package to $60 million since 1999.
"These projects provide critical infrastructure for e-research and industry R&D in areas such as tele-health, distance learning and wireless networks," he said.
Two of the projects mentioned by Minster Williams, CeNTIE and GrangeNet, provide very high capacity optic fibre networks linking research institutions in Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.
The third project noted by the minster, m.Net, is an advanced wireless network based in Adelaide that enables research into broadband wireless network technologies and applications.