Time to labour for IT

commentary Remember the Labor Party´s "Knowledge Nation" IT manifesto in the last federal election?The Labor Party had grand plans back then.

commentary Remember the Labor Party´s "Knowledge Nation" IT manifesto in the last federal election?

The Labor Party had grand plans back then. Central to the Knowledge Nation policy was the formation of an online university, which sought to kill two birds with one stone -- reduce tertiary fees by 50 percent and create an additional 100,000 undergraduate places in 10 years.

Apart from untimed, free telephone calls, Labor proposed establishing an Institute for Manufacturing in line with efforts to boost research and development.

On the campaign trail, then Labor leader Kim Beazley proclaimed that Knowledge Nation´s success would require long-term commitment. He took Prime Minister John Howard to task for his inability to think and plan on a long-term basis.

Today, Knowledge Nation has sunk into an abyss.

When Kate Lundy, Shadow Minister for IT, unveiled her policies on September 15, that too was a big letdown. Where was the meat? One wondered.

To put things into perspective, even the Coalition´s 2001 policies were better formulated and presented.

On the surface, it may seem that the Coalition´s 48-page information policy far outweighs Labor´s (which can be counted in one hand). But the devil is in the detail and Labor´s policy atrociously falls short here as well. Reading it felt like a flipping through a K-mart catalogue.

Does Labor seriously think it can garner votes by keeping voters in the dark? Instead of delivering solid policies, Australia got Labor´s "wishlist" for IT and communications.

Labor plans to increase Australia´s share in the global software and digital content market, but makes no mention of how that will be achieved.

Labor wants to replace AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office) with its own version called GITO (Government IT and Online) but doesn´t provide any reasons for wanting to do so.

It´s a vastly different world in the Coalition camp.

There's more information in the Coalition's tech policy although about 70 percent was originally covered in its 2001 plan. IT Minister Helen Coonan would argue that this is a sign of long-term execution and the Coalition´s ability to follow through on past promises such as increased funding in the "Backing Australia´s Ability" strategy -- with $5.3 billion pledged to science and technology until 2011.

The Coalition´s policy -- despite being a mere collation of past announcements -- was easier to digest compared with Labor´s piecemeal and cryptic approach.

But perhaps the biggest criticism of Labor is its contradictory approach to IT: Labor says ICT "is a foundation of nation building in the 21st century" yet it doesn´t have a single, consolidated portfolio to tackle IT, communications and tech-related industry issues. Instead, there are three different points of contact -- Lundy, Lindsay Tanner for Communications and Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Industry.

The failure of the Labor Party to deliver a cohesive structure is mind boggling. The IT industry would be better off with one voice, one person to fight for its rights. Even third-world countries recognise this ... it´s time for Labor to get with the program.