The focus on skills and healthcare in Treasurer Wayne Swan’s 2011 – 2012 Federal Budget will provide opportunities for the ICT industry.
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), outgoing CEO, Ian Birks, said budget commitments made to other sectors can potentially benefit the ICT sector.
He highlighted the $1.8 billion investment to rural healthcare, noting a strong technology component will benefit rural hospitals and present opportunities for the IT industry.
Budget allocated to funnel 16,000 skilled migrant workers into rural and regional areas was disappointing to the AIIA.
The organisation was concerned about ICT skills shortage in urban centres and would have liked to see support for the industry in the short to medium term.
Overall, AIIA did not see the budget providing much to the ICT sector but it was an expected outcome.
“We didn’t expect much so we didn’t get much,” Birks said. “I think the Digital Economy strategy Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, will be making later in the month is really where we should expect to see the things that are of most interest to our industry.”
The Budget disclosed a $2.2 billion investment into mental health services, which aligns with the national eHealth strategy.
"The introduction of $14.4 million over 5 years dedicated to the consolidation of Mental Health websites and the provision of e-Therapy services to an additional 45,000 consumers is worthy to note," CSC national director for health services, LisaPettigrew said.
"In a tough budget year, it is heartening to see the government's commitment to eHealth is unwavering. The eHealth reality created by this government in last year’s budget will ensure that the modernising of Australia's health system will be underway by 1 July 2012.”
Ovum analyst, Kevin Noonan, said the important message coming from this year’s ‘tough love budget’ was that there’s a lot of IT activity coming down the path in the coming year. But he highlighted the lack of focus on the re-investment funds tied to the Gershon Review.
“The more government program and services that are announced or changed in the budget, the more IT work is required to create or change the way those services are delivered,” Noonan said.
The government’s successful Broadband for Seniors program was extended for another four years with a $10.4 million price tag.
IP Australia received long term funding assurance with a 15-year $63.4 million initiative to develop core trademarks and design business systems.
Meanwhile, the Department of Human Services will receive significant IT funding to deliver value out of agency amalgamation, Noonan said.
“This includes $38 million over four years to create an integrated online presence through its website and telephone facilities, $157.6 million over four years to integrate some online transactions (“tell us once”), and $373.6 million over four years to develop additional integrated infrastructure such as a single gateway, data security and recovery,” he said. “It’s a large amount of money to deliver some big initiatives.”
On the staffing front, the public service is set to remain steady in percentage terms with growth of about 1000 staff.
The Department of Defence, meanwhile, is set to grow by about 5 per cent in the coming year, despite being the hardest hit in terms of running cost efficiencies.
Last financial year NBN received significant funding to pay for initial setup.
This year, the NBN project is turning to implementation.
“This includes $35.6m over 5 years for implementation support, $12.8m over four for the regulatory framework, and $4 million over 4 years for legal support in regional Australia,” Noonan said.
IT industry veteran and Express Data non-executive, Ross Cochrane, said the commitment to infrastructure was reflective of the NBN and the IT industry.
“Funding towards infrastructure, whether its roads or IT, is very good for the longer term challenge that we need to address in the country, which is productivity,” Cochrane said.
“The IT industry itself didn’t have anything specifically targeted towards it, but the investment on skilling people up and getting more people employed will drive growth for the IT industry.”
Programs focused on employment, whether it’s keeping young people in training longer and getting more apprentices, technology will be a great enabler.
“That’s the flow on effect that IT industry can benefit from,” he said.
Cochrane said he would have liked to see a bit relief in the cost of doing business and reducing red tape.
“That’s consistent with every business whether large or small and I think that’s an ongoing challenge that all administrations need to cope with,” he said. “If you want to improve productivity, you’ve got to remove some of the constraints.”