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Wednesday, 30 March 2011 11:17

The curious case of Conroy's National Digital Economy Strategy


The Federal Government has announced that it will release, at the end of May, a National Digital Economy Strategy, but its promotion of such a major document has been curiously low-key.

The prime minister, Julia Gillard and communications minister, senator Stephen Conroy, along with the federal member for Perth, Stephen Smith, chose of all places a Perth retail store to announce "a major national strategy that will provide a roadmap for Australia to leverage the National Broadband Network (NBN) and become a world leading digital economy by 2020."

In a joint press release the three said the National Digital Economy Strategy would be released at the end of May, describing it as "The roadmap [that] will provide Australians with a clear vision of what an NBN-enabled world will look like and what steps the Gillard Government, in collaboration with industry and the community, will take to get there."

That they should have chosen such a low-key venue for what appears to me a major announcement in itself seemed odd. Perhaps this was not so much an announcement as a re-announcement? Goodness knows we see plenty of those.

Conroy's office told me: "We have been talking about this for some time now" but offered only one reference to it, a speech Conroy gave last July to an AIIA lunch in Melbourne.

iTWire reported this, pre election speech as "Communications minister Stephen Conroy [delivering] the broadest hint yet that a Gillard Government will, if re-elected, consolidate Government information technology-related activities within a single portfolio."

Indeed this was the only substantial reference I was able to find via Google to the strategy. Google did however reveal that there is a Digital Economy Strategy Division in DBCDE, headed by first assistant secretary Richard Windeyer, which presumably is responsible for the document.

In that AIIA speech, Conroy said: "The infrastructure we are building will transform the economy and we need to be in a position to capitalise on the opportunity this presents. The Government will drive this transformation through the promotion of smart infrastructure; and the delivery of e-Government services, including in the areas of health, education and aged care.

"To achieve this, the Government will release a long-term Digital Economy Strategy to maximise the benefits of an NBN enabled society. Areas of focus will include:
- getting Australians online safely and securely;
- ensuring government is a leading digital economy participant;
- driving online and mobile payment innovation;
- increasing Australian e-commerce;
- creating greater use of online educational resources;
- increasing the use of telehealth and tele-care at home;
- making smart use of technology;
- and measuring the impact of digitisation of our economy.

In this week's announcement, the Government said: "The National Digital Economy Strategy will map the key areas of focus and outline programs that will allow Australian families, not-for-profits and small and medium businesses to enjoy the economic and social benefits that the NBN can deliver.

"These programs will create digital hubs in local towns where people who aren't online can experience the benefits. The programs will also provide training to local business and not-for-profits to ensure that all communities enjoy the benefits of getting online'¦The National Digital Economy Strategy will provide the framework that will enable industry and business to build on and take full advantage of this world class infrastructure."

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