Australia’s Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, has unveiled a new road-map for ICT reforms, while placing the administration’s annual AU$ 6 billion spending effort under closer scrutiny.
These ICT reforms, jointly released with Shadow Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Mr Andrew Robb, are highlighted in the Coalition’s Policy for E-Government and the Digital Economy September 2013.
This document clarifies the Opposition’s views on ICT procurement and technologies-of-choice. This action plans comes just five days before Australians go to the polls on Saturday 7th September.
Delivering value for money
Among the changes, the Coalition is proposing an “aggressive reform agenda to ensure value for money in ICT procurement.” The focus is on transparency of expenditure as well as better services for taxpayers.
“This is critical if we are to address Australia’s recent and alarming deterioration in global rankings with regard to our digital competitiveness and innovation.”
To improve “lagging productivity and generate secure, highly-skilled and well-paid jobs, the Coalition will require virtually all government services and public interactions to be available digitally by 2017 on an opt-in basis. This is backed by hard-copy access to documentation.
The Coalition, under the leadership of Mr Tony Abbott, plans to improve the “transparency of government ICT spending.” This incorporates launching a US-style online ‘dashboard’ so taxpayers can assess the performance and progress of major projects.
Australia’s public sector accounts for about a third of GDP. Many programmes are difficult to implement without a cost-effective use of technology.
Coalition’s ICT road-map
If elected, the Coalition will require agencies to trial next-generation tele-presence systems from 2014. Other plans include trialing an opt-in “digital pigeonhole” from 2014 for Australians who want to go ‘paperless.’ This incorporates a free, secure digital inbox for communication from at levels of government.
The Coalition is seeking “leadership” that encourages standards in areas including online identity verification and mobile payments.
It also encourages agencies to use cloud services and operate their IT functions more efficiently. The Coalition’s road-map factors in developing a “National Digital Economy Strategy.” This will be done in close consultation with States and Territories, recognising that states play a key role to deliver public services.
Fast-tracking broadband services
The Coalition plans to builds on an April 2013 commitment delivering the National Broadband Network (NBN) “sooner, cheaper for taxpayers and more affordably for consumers.”
The Opposition notes that: “Labor’s costly, delayed plan to upgrade broadband has dominated the public policy digital agenda for the past six years.”
Many Australians were “misled into thinking that unless we get Labor’s NBN we cannot be a successful, sophisticated 21st century economy. That is not true. Nevertheless, broadband – particularly achieving universal access as soon as possible – does matter. That is why the Coalition will upgrade broadband for households and businesses with poor connectivity as soon as possible.”
ICT spending figures
Among the statistics, whole-of-government spending in 2011-12 topped AU $5.97 billion. ICT spending rose by 13 per cent through to 2011-12.
At the federal level, spending is dominated by a handful of intensive users. These portfolio agencies include the Australian Taxation Office, Human Services, Centrelink, Medicare, Defence, Health, Immigration and Customs.
Eighteen agencies with annual ICT budgets ranging from AU $35 million to AU $1 billion account for 85 per cent of whole-of-government ICT spending.
The other 88 agencies covered by a Financial Management and Accountability Act (1997) accounted for the remaining 15 per cent. Approximately 68 per cent of expenditure in 2011-12 was on ‘business as usual’ ICT.
The Australian government hires 13,900 IT staff (about 7 per cent of all Australian Public Service staff). In 2011-12, 20 per cent of ICT staff were ‘external,’ that is contractors.
Combined, hardware and software accounts for about a third of costs. Labour accounted for about half of overall costs.