Government announces big IT spend

Government announces big IT spend

The Federal Government's grand plan for the IT future of Australia, titled "Backing Australia's Abilities", was launched at Sydney's Technology Park Redfern last week.

The main thrust of the plan is to encourage R&D in IT, alleviate the IT skills shortage and assist in the commercialisation of emerging technologies by increasing public spending in the sector by $2.9 billion.

Response to the statement has been generally positive, with many seeing it as a major turning point in the importance awarded to high-tech industries.

Australian Computer Society (ACS) president John Ridge described the Government's plans as "the first time we have had serious recognition of the importance of the IT sector for the whole economy".

Ridge told ARN he believed the plan indicated that the Federal Government was showing a serious commitment to the IT sector.

Geoff Thomas, CEO of Adelaide-based incubator the Playford Centre, was equally enthusiastic about the Government's approach. Nonetheless, he warned that the changes to the R&D tax concessions may not free up funds to the smaller companies. According to Thomas, smaller companies are often unable to fill in the documentation associated with the tax concessions.

"The red tape will be the same for both large and small companies," Thomas said. "We have had cases of small companies which have decided not to take Government grants because of the level of red tape they have to wade through."

Maree Lowe, managing director of Australian OEM and integrator ASI Solutions, commended the Government for finally taking a policy direction which would foster local innovation.

"In the realms of education and research facilities such as CSIRO, it has the right approach," Lowe said. "This kind of investment is important as long as there is a commercial outcome at some point." However, she agreed with Thomas that many smaller companies lack the resources to cope with the red tape associated with the Government funding.

Grame Barty, managing director of Web developer Harvest Road, applauds the Government's initiatives, especially those that deal with the commercialisation of emerging technologies.

However, he was concerned the Government failed to address industry concerns at a lack of Government procurement opportunities aimed at Australian companies.

"There has to be a policy of supporting Australian industry. If, as an Australian company, you can sell to a large Government department, you can get a look-in in industry as well," Barty said.

Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) executive director Rob Durie said the policy initiatives would result in significant growth in the industry.

Durie was especially impressed by the commercial initiatives, such as the R&D tax concessions and the focus on assisted commercialisation of technology. However, he warns there is still a long way to go before the Government manages to resolve the skills shortage.

"The announcements are a good start but the issue will not simply go away," Durie said. "We are talking about a shortage in the vicinity of 30,000 people right now, and the Government's response is to create 2000 new university places every year for the next three years."

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