The Tasmanian government has revealed in the 2021 Budget that finances will remain in the red for another year, but it said it remained optimistic about being back in the black by 2023-24.
For the 2021 Budget, the Apple Isle reported a deficit of AU$690 million.
"Going into this pandemic our financial position was strong and even though we provided more than AU$1 billion in economic and social supports, the Budget is now on track to surplus and will be back in the black over the forward estimates period," Premier Peter Gutwein said.
He detailed the state would return to a cash operating surplus of AU$369 million next year and a "modest" operating surplus of AU$39.4 million in 2023-24, followed by increases to an operating surplus of AU$126.8 million by 2024-25.
Despite these numbers, the state government said it would continue to improve access to government services, as well as help businesses get online and the community to improve their digital literacy by setting aside AU$8.5 million in the 2021-22 Budget for digital initiatives.
As part of this, AU$2.18 million will be used to support skills development through the extension of funding Digital Ready for Business program, the Project Springboard development program, the Enterprize innovation hubs in Hobart and Launceston, as well as the introduction of a new hub to be developed for the north-west.
A total of AU$36.7 million has also been budgeted for major government IT projects, including AU$24 million for the government's digital transformation priority expenditure program. Under this program, the government plans to deliver a whole-of-government online portal, a new website for Parliament, its Justice Connect initiative, and its 10-year digital health transformation initiative that remains ongoing.
Minister for Science Michael Ferguson explained the new, one-stop Service Tasmania digital service platform will be a portal, accessible through a single and secure login.
"Tasmanians who prefer to access face-to-face assistance through the network of Service Tasmania shopfronts across the state will still be able to do so into the future," he said.
"However, in an increasingly digital society, the community will benefit from better options of simple, quick, and secure access to online government services. Over time, the Service Tasmania digital service platform will grow to encompass a broad array of services, including digital licensing and, potentially, integration with Commonwealth government services."
Meanwhile, AU$3 million will be invested to improve Department of Health's human resources IT system, while another AU$5 million will be used for an initiative designed to replace several disparate and ageing IT systems used by Tasmania Police with an integrated system, dubbed Project Unity.
Tasmania Police will also be provided an additional AU$2.5 million to enable frontline police to be freed up and more state service employees can be hired in specialised roles, such as cybercrime and digital evidence analysis.
Further, the Department of Premier and Cabinet will be handed AU$1.2 million this Budget to continue the delivery of cybersecurity services across government.
The Tasmanian government also plans to invest AU$111.5 million over the 2021-22 Budget period and forward estimates for bushfire safety and reduction. Of that, AU$90,000 will be used to stand up a permanent multi-hazard intelligence team in the state's operations centre to help provide real-time monitoring of hazards and advice for planning incident response.
Improving digital skills across the state is another priority area for the state government, which has said it will make an AU$1 million investment to extend TasTAFE's Skill Up initiative. The initiative aims to provide fee-free training in areas such as IT and business, health, and tourism and hospitality.