It has become a ritual every year for every industry sector to examine how the Federal budget affects its constituents. The ICT industry is invariably disappointed – successive governments have no so much ignored it as been unaware of its existence.
Last night’s effort was not in this category. There were a number of significant mentions of ICT. These include:
- The NBN is untouched. Through some financial tricks the Government has managed to fund the NBN largely outside of the normal budgetary process, but given the unlikelihood of its retaining power in September, this is essentially meaningless. The budget papers contained a few pages on the NBN, but they were rehashes of existing policy, with no new spending,
- A crackdown on multinational ‘profit shifting’, which allows companies like Google to pay virtually no tax in Australia by billing the local subsidiary for ‘services’ from related entities in low tax countries like Ireland. Google pays tax of $6 million in Australia on revenues of over $2 billion and God knows how much profit.
- An investment of $350 million in an ‘Innovation Investment Fund’ to help stimulate investment in start-up companies. This, like much else in the budget, had been previously announced.
- The official dropping of Stephen Conroy’s much criticised Internet filtering program (the ‘Çyber Safety Enhancement Program’). This poorly conceived policy had been sidelined in any case – the announced savings of $4.5 million are just the nail in the coffin.
- $19 million for increased telepresence (videoconferencing) in government departments.
- A $12.9 million allocation for digital training for small business, local councils and not-for-profits.
- $5.7 million over two years to support local government improve online service delivery.
- $9.9 million over four years to assist senior Australians to participate and contribute online
- A new $16 million data centre for AUSTRAC (Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre).
- $14 million for a new ICT system for the ARC (Australian Research Council).
The budget partly follows, most probably unwittingly, the recommendations of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), which two weeks ago launched its election platform..
At the launch AIIA CEO Suzanne Campbell said the Government should address six key areas if it is to accelerate the value of Australia’s digital economy – currently valued at some $100 billion – and ensure sustained national prosperity.
- Driving take up and use of our national broadband infrastructure, with a particular focus on Government use of
- Stimulating growth and innovation by ICT start-ups and small businesses.
- Motivating small and medium sized enterprises to improve their productivity by ‘getting’ online and digitally capable.
- Addressing the ICT skills shortage.
- Growing our ICT capability through improved research and development (R&D) capability and capacity, and forging better links between research and industry.
- Acknowledging the value of the digital economy by tracking and measuring its performance.
This budget has more specific mentions of ICT related items than we have seen in such a document. Given the importance the Government has attached to the NBN, it would seem that – finally – the Government of the day understands ICT.
It would be tempting to say that we might have to start all over again in September. But with Malcolm Turnbull likely to be in charge of communications portfolio, and having considerable influence elsewhere, that will not be the case. ICT is so pervasive in modern life that governments can no longer ignore it, as they once did.