Alston’s IT industry baby arrives three weeks early

The federal government’s report outlining the proposed future framework for the information and communications technologies industry in Australia has been rushed into the public domain three weeks early after being leaked by disgruntled members of its steering committee.

Entitled, Enabling Our Future: A Framework for the Information and Communications Technology Industry, the report, from the steering committee to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, estimates the size of the ICT sector in Australia at 22,000 businesses directly providing 250,000 jobs with ICT production contributing around A$50 billion (US$30 billion) or almost 8 per cent of GDP to the economy.

While still thin on precise details or expenditures, the report reinforces a clear move by government away from decentralized control and expenditure back to an overtly re-centralized model with a heavy emphasis on defense and regional security.

“Even prior to September 11 2001, but more so since, the ability to use a capacity in ICT to aggregate, develop and deploy information to obtain ‘information superiority’ has been seen as a significant means by which national defense systems gain advantage over others.

“Increasingly, the capacity for individual firms (and whole economies) to achieve the same kind of strategic advantage over their competitors is becoming a major source of competitive strength,” the report’s executive summary states, adding that the “Organizations which benefit most from this transformative role of ICT are those which treat ICT as a key strategic resource for achieving organizational goals rather than as a purely technical input.” the report’s executive summary says.

The first recommendation of the report states, “Commonwealth, state and territory governments should work together to articulate ICT goals, and develop and urgently implement strategies to harness ICT to achieve broad national objectives in areas such as health, education and security, and improve coordination of programs.” Government and vendor meetings are slated for within three months, including the Online Council to be convened by the Commonwealth.

Recommendations for research and development include that National ICT Australia (NICTA), the Commonwealth Science and Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) provide “a role in focusing research on national objectives”.

Sources within Senator Alston’s office readily concede that not everyone on the report’s committee is happy with its strategic focus – and that it’s release had been brought forward to circumvent further speculation. The source added that certain committee members had “axes to grind” in regard to comments that they were “embarrassed” by the report.

Senator Alston himself said that, “I think to the extent that that is said [the report is embarrassing] – and I’m not sure that has been said on the record – I think that misunderstands the nature of the exercise”.

Senator Kate Lundy said the report is a “failed ‘framework for the future’ [and] a pathetic excuse for a policy vision and a waste of time for industry, for government and for future generations”.

The “precise nature of the exercise” will be revealed by Peter Costello on the night of the May 13; providing it is not leaked.