Alston opens the pork barrel

Ignored for the majority of the time, Australia's IT community is receiving some rare attention from the political arena in the lead-up to the Federal election on November 10.

This week the Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and The Arts, Senator Richard Alston, has opened up the pork barrel, announcing funding boosts in South Australia and Victoria. The Liberal Party minister also found time to fire a political backhander at the opposition Labor party for its stance on parallel importing.

Three separate press announcements yesterday introduced information and communications technology to the government's campaign agenda.

Firstly, the opposition copped a blast in response to its "Knowledge Nation" initiative after it announced intentions to roll back recent government reforms on the importing of CDs, which have opened up the market to parallel importing.

Labor's intention to stop the flow of cheaper parallel imports for CDs, including software, by returning to regulated supply through local manufacturers, saw Alston let rip at Labor leader Kim Beazley.

"This retrograde step by Labor makes a mockery of Mr Beazley's empty rhetoric about a Knowledge Nation," Alston said. "Labor has still not realised that the Internet is rendering domestic distribution monopolies obsolete as consumers buy straight from the Net."

Meanwhile, in excess of $5 million of spending has been approved by Alston for telecommunications funding in rural and remote South Australia under the $500 million Networking the Nation initiative. In addition, Alston announced $658,200 will be pumped into Melbourne universities for the upgrading of research facilities.

In South Australia, funding has been approved for more "telecentres" at Yorketown, Morgan, Coffin Bay, Elliston, Cowell and Streaky Bay. $166,000 is also being made available for the construction of an outback telecentre network, which will provide remote communities at Marree, Yunta, Oodnadatta and Mintabie with access to online services and information.

The biggest allocation of the $5 million is for the implementation of the Local Government Information Economy Strategy. Receiving $4.472 million of the total, this project "will deliver a one-stop shop for the wider regional community to access local government services . . . if the Coalition wins government", according to Alston.

In Melbourne both the University of Melbourne and RMIT will benefit from new grants to be spent on research facilities. RMIT will receive $508,200 in 2002 to purchase equipment and software to establish and fit out a new facility. Melbourne University will receive $150,000 over three years to develop a database of Australian and overseas scholarships and studies that are relevant to Australian students studying abroad and overseas students studying in Australia.

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