NICTA narrows down job cuts

National ICT Australia has narrowed down the number of jobs set to go from its Victoria Lab, while denying that projects have been abandoned or suspended.

Australia's peak IT research agency, National ICT Australia (NICTA) will axe 30 research positions at its Victoria Lab as a result of Victorian government funding cuts.

ZDNet yesterday revealed that around half of the jobs at the lab were expected to go after the Victorian government informed the agency in mid January that it would be scaling down its funding to the lab. Victorian Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said that the government has not been getting the expected rate of return on the investment, with New South Wales getting approximately AU$5 out of every AU$1 invested, while Victoria is only getting around AU$1.50 for every AU$1 invested.

NICTA CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte told staff in late January that as a result, there would be a restructure of the Victoria Lab, resulting in a reduction of the lab by approximately half of its current headcount.

"I regret to say that there will need to be a significant number of redundancies at VRL as part of this reduction in size and the refocusing of activities. We will work with everyone concerned to make this as painless as possible," he said.

An email from a Melbourne University staffer to Durrant-Whyte, seen by ZDNet, alleged that the CEO's announcement contained misleading statements, that the planned redundancies were being concealed by NICTA, and that many of the people being made redundant could have been deployed elsewhere.

An anonymous tip-off to ZDNet late yesterday claimed that almost all research staff members were being made redundant, with most projects undertaken by the Victoria Lab being halted or terminated. Although a similar claim appeared on independent media website Crikey yesterday, a spokesperson for NICTA denied the claim.

The spokesperson also confirmed that the expected headcount reduction is from 70 staff members to 40. Staff that are employed by the universities to work in the lab are not included in the cull, and Victoria Lab's total headcount before the cull was 115, including those staffers.

NICTA will also be hunting for further funding beyond the next financial year, after the Coalition announced prior to the election that it would not be extending NICTA's funding in 2015-16 by AU$42 million, as had been promised by the former Labor government.