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Sod-all for tech in Australian federal budget

Mostly millions rather than billions

Australia’s IT sector is once again disappointed at a federal budget that provides few big-ticket tech items.

The IT&T sector remains nostalgic for a bygone era in which every federal budget scattered funds around in the form of industry development grants and subsidies designed to attract big-name high-tech manufacturing to Australia, and each year it hopes for a return to the glory days.

As has been the case for some time, the budget only identifies a handful of relatively small tech items for the industry to chew over. Even the National Broadband Network, the largest project since God rested on the seventh day, only attracts a trivial five-year commitment of A$48.4 million for departmental work on regulation, implementation support (particularly in the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s role in the negotiations between Telstra and NBN Co), and public education.

The A$3bn committed to NBN construction for the next 12 months was already announced.

The exception is the Department of Human Services, which will be attracting contractors like flies after the budget handed it A$580m to integrate systems in Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, and to implement self-service systems for welfare recipients.

Lack of interest has killed off the government’s Voluntary Internet Filtering Grants program, saving just under A$10m over three years.

Only a handful of activities in the budget papers identify new IT spending: Defence will spend nearly A$20mover four years to improve Internet access for personnel; and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency will build some new IT systems out of its A$6.6m budget for implementing the government’s energy efficiency targets.

Australia’s bid for the Square Kilometre Array Telescope – which if successful would need big dollars both in computing and telecommunications – is getting A$40m over four years.

The government is also sending a little extra boodle in the direction of Tasmania, courtesy of A$20mto continue the work of the Tasmanian ICT centre, which cites training and education, sensor network research, data management, and robotics among its activities.

In the field of green technology, the government has cut A$220 million from its “Solar Flagships” program, which helped fund feasibility studies into large-scale solar power plants, but much bigger savings are to come from carbon capture and storage programs, which are to lose more than A$400m in funding.

The next step for the IT industry will be to comb the budget papers working out which administrative programs are going to require work on the underlying IT systems. ®


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