Budget an attack on IT

The Federal Budget has given real substance to the anti-science mentality so evident in this Government’s world view.

There is a promise (we know what they are worth) of more health research, but that will be funded from the eroding of universal health care represented by the $7 copayment that will hurt the less fortunate so much.

For the IT industry the budget is a disaster. NICTA, the highly successful publicly funded ICT research agency, will totally lose its Federal Government funding within two years. It will have to stand on its own two feet.

This was foreshadowed previously, but has now been confirmed. We already know what the Government is doing to NBN. Australia will not get a world class broadband network. It’s all hidden by weasel words. So is the cutting in NICTA’s funding.

“The Australian Government will maintain $84.9 million funding for NICTA in the next two years as the organisation moves to a self-sustaining funding model,” said Malcolm Turnbull in a statement released with the budget.

“The Department of Communications and the Australian Research Council will each contribute $21.4 million in 2014–15 and $21.0 million in 2015–16.” He did not say that this amount had been announced by the previous government and was locked in,

“NICTA, Australia's Information Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence, was established to increase the scale and quality of Australian ICT research and development,””said Turnbull. It builds new technology-focused start-ups and pursues high-impact research excellence to create wealth, jobs and benefit for Australians.

“It also delivers approximately one quarter of Australia's ICT PhD students each year.” For how much longer?

“It was always expected that funding from the private sector would play an increasingly important role in supporting NICTA's operations. NICTA's rapid recent growth in commercial revenue, through its partnerships with domestic and overseas firms, shows it can draw funding from a wider range of sources.

“In recognition of NICTA's maturity and current stage of development, the Government considers the time is approaching for NICTA to stand on its own feet from June 2016. The Government expects NICTA to pursue funding from private sector investment and research grants.

“By making the right choices today, we are creating a stronger economy for tomorrow.”

But wait, there’s more. Well-known journalist David Frith, in his Computer Daily News newsletter, has gone through the budget tooth and nail, and found all the cuts that affect IT and science generally.

CSIRO will lose more than 10% of its staff. The Australian Education Research Council is being phased out, as is the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA). The National Health and Medical Research Council loses nine members and Geoscience Australia 100 staff, more than 10%.

And let’s not even talk about Climate Change. Science is a socialist plot.

David Frith makes the point very well: “Treasurer Joe Hockey's speech last to Parliament last night introducing the Abbott Government's 2014-15 Budget ran to 4868 words. How many times did they include terms like ‘information technology’, ‘communications’, ‘Internet’, ‘innovation’ ‘cloud’ or ‘smarter Australia’? Not once.”

It’s not just what they say. It’s what they don’t say.


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.