ICT innovation still missing from federal agenda

ICT innovation still missing from federal agenda

Industry representatives have applauded new ICT promises from both parties in the lead-up to the federal election, but claim technology innovation is still missing from the agenda.

Amid a frenzy of election promises this month, the opposition announced it would spend $1 billion on digitizing primary and secondary schools. The National Secondary School Computer Fund aims to provide Internet access of up to 100Mbps to 9000 public and private schools across the country.

It will ensure computer access for every student in years 9-12. PC equipment will be renewed every four years.

Labor is also promising a tax education refund of up to 50 per cent for education items including laptops and home PCs, Internet connectivity, printers and software.

The Coalition has pledged up to $400 per child in primary school and $800 for high school students to cover education costs. The rebates can be used for laptops and broadband connections as well as school fees and uniforms.

The biggest ICT play for both parties, however, is broadband, with Labor announcing it will spend $4.7 billion on creating a national fibre-based broadband network.

On the other side of the fence, ICT minister, Senator Helen Coonan, has dismissed a fully publicly funded high-speed network in favour of a $2 billion Communications Fund to provide grants to companies that build broadband infrastructure.

In June, the government awarded $958 million in funding to Opel, a joint venture between Optus and Elders, to roll out a wireless broadband network covering 99 per cent of the population. Opel will contribute a further $900 million towards building the network, which will offer 12Mbps speeds.

Education and broadband aside, there is scant reference to ICT innovation in either party's election promises, Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Sheryle Moon, said.

"There has always been a dearth of ICT-related policies. The fact that PCs are included in the education announcements made by Labor is terrific and recognizes the importance of computer literacy," she said. "But neither party is talking about the need to encourage innovation in Australia and that means we're falling behind. We need to change the mindset and to see ICT as growing our economy."

Data#3 CEO, John Grant, said rising recognition of ICT, driven largely by broadband, was a positive step. According to the latest Australian Computer Society (ACS) online member survey, broadband was the number one ICT election issue for 49.45 per cent of respondents, followed by skills and education (31.46 per cent) and a national ICT strategy (9.08 per cent).

"There's much healthier debate around the elements of ICT that are strategic for Australia. It doesn't mean it will be resolved, but it's showing that the government is recognising ICT can win votes," Grant said. "The way we grow this industry is to get a connection between what we do and the value of innovation."

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