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IT ignored by Costello

IT ignored by Costello

In what is likely to be his last Budget between the Prime Minister's office or the back bench, Treasurer Peter Costello has bet the farm on a series of across-the-board tax cuts, backed by an ambitious series of welfare reforms where big picture IT simply does not figure - at least not for this year.

IT Minister Helen Coonan's portfolio is, if anything, marginally poorer. But as with any budget, there are always winners and losers.

Loser: Coonan and IT research left empty-handed

Having been charged with selling Telstra and placating National Party senators with itchy feet, Senator Coonan's portfolio - Department of Communications IT and the Arts (DCITA) - could have been forgiven for expecting a few crumbs from this year's budget. However, she has walked away almost completely empty-handed.

While no major cuts stand out or have been highlighted in DCITA budget statements, there is no new money, with $50 million for Metropolitan Broadband Blackspots Program being funded out of last year's Budget.

Meanwhile, DCITA policy outputs in the form of research and development projects, administered by the Department of Employment Science and Training, have taken visible hits: Building on IT Strengths (BITS) Incubator program takes a $2 million dollar haircut from $12.6 million to $10.6 million this year while BITS Advanced Networks funding reduces from $8 million to $7 million.

Loser: Fund eats Telstra whole

Costello's tenth Federal Budget has locked in the government's vision of the future as one where IT costs continue to fall for the duration of the current term, with the entire proceeds of Telstra's sale now being unequivocally sunk into paying out unfunded Commonwealth superannuation liability.

After returning a massive $21 billion worth of personal income tax cuts, Costello has also pledged to sink the entire projected $36 billion to be raised from the sale of Telstra into a new untouchable future fund.

"If you sell off Telstra, and you spend the money, you have no assets and you have sold the family silver," Costello explained.

Winner: Biometrics reaps $182 million

if last year's budget went all out to bolster the IT budgets of Australia's security and intelligence agencies, this year's has gone hell for leather on biometrics, backed by a massive commitment to data-drilling that will leave no government mainframe or database unturned.

Major biometrics projects such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) biometric ePassport rollout and Customs' troubled facial recognition border clearance system SmartGate will progress full steam ahead.

The full-scale rollout of biometric passports has received $67.53 million over four years, while the less scalable SmartGate facial recognition kiosks get $74 .6 million to enable Customs to automate border processing using ePassports through the gradual phasing-in of self-processing and automated processing at major airports.

Meanwhile, the Department of Immigration Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) will get $42.87 million to implement biometric technology for border security and identity verification.

However, the funding increases do not specify what systems DIMIA will spend the money on, suggesting the department is in for a substantial IT and processing systems overhaul.


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