The Coalition has come under fire for its proposed Budget, which would see major IT initiatives slashed if it came to power.
As part of its Budget 2010-2011 reply, the Coalition said it planned to recoup $700 million over four years by stopping the Digital Education Revolution program putting laptops in schools. The e-Health initiative announced by the Government would also be deleted, saving $467m over two years, and the National Broadband Network (NBN) implementation would also be stopped, saving $24m over four years.
The interest savings on cancelling the NBN would equal $2.436 billion over four years while stopping it altogether would save a further $18bn.
Industry experts have slammed the Coalition for its lack of alternatives while advocates are calling for urgent talks to discuss the issues. Ovum research director for public sector, Kevin Noonan, said studies had shown the public wanted high-speed Internet and was ready for an NBN-style project.
“It’s disappointing to see the Coalition hasn’t responded in a more positive way,” he said. “An approach that would’ve been better accepted is if they were to take on the debate about implementation.
“Coming out against it without an alternative and without an argued position that’s positive is unhelpful.”
Noonan had similar concerns about the Coalition’s plans to stop the e-Health scheme funding and claimed a unified system with patient records was urgently needed. But the analyst said the plan to stop the rollout of laptops in schools would have a far-reaching impact all around Australia because it was already well underway.
“The bureaucracy for making this work is already in place – vendors are locked in along with infrastructure in regional Australia,” he said. “It would have a negative impact on the many SMEs who provide support infrastructure.”
Acer general manager for products, Nigel Gore, was a key member of the Lenovo team that won the NSW DET project to rollout out laptops to high schools throughout the state.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s been put in to enable those computers in schools,” he said. “Those go from technical labour that’s been put into place to do installations, to support infrastructure. Education departments have put staff in and vendor’s’ financial revenues will be impacted.
“The Government has benefited from taxes as well so even though it’s a saving, there’s also a loss, so it may not be a true saving.”
Gore claimed laptops greatly assisted in teaching kids throughout Australia.
“A lot of curriculum has been developed to aid that so it stalls a lot of momentum,” he said. “If they’re not going through with this, then what are they doing to develop learning outcomes for future generations?”
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Ian Birks, said it would be seeking urgent talks with the Coalition to understand the thinking behind the changes and what alternative plans will be proposed.
“It is a concern that all these IT projects are in the firing line,” he said. “I find it hard to believe they don’t have a position for a policy to replace them so we’d like to engage with them in a bit more detail.”
Birks said high-speed broadband was a necessity for the future of the Australian economy.
“I’m not sure that IT is disproportionately targeted. At the moment, there are quite a lot of things that have been slowed or not encouraged by the Opposition,” he said. “We have channels to the Coalition and we’ll use those.”
The IT spending cuts were part of the Coalition’s attempts to find $46.7bn in savings. Details about the cuts were revealed in three separate stages by Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction, Andrew Robb.
“There are hard decisions there,” Hockey said in a speech on May 19. “Returning the Budget to surplus will require tough decisions. But making tough decisions is a necessary part of good government. Tony Abbott and our Coalition team are prepared to make them.”