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VICTORIAN VOICE: State of the Nation

VICTORIAN VOICE: State of the Nation

It's never hard to tell when there is an election in the air. That peculiar species of primate - the politician - comes out of hibernation and starts to flash pearly whites, write cheques and kiss babies.

Down here in Victoria, no news broadcast in the last few weeks has been complete without a healthy dose of political rhetoric or grandstanding. By the time you read this, the Bracks Labor Government will almost certainly have announced that Victoria is going to the polls for an early election.

At present, there are the usual portions of pork barrelling and self-congratulation from the incumbents, and the equally evident accusations and finger-pointing from the opposition wannabes. This is accompanied by frequent appearances in marginal electorates by the major players and endless orations on subject matter that is sensitive to public interest.

News and current affairs are full of those trusted old chestnuts - education, health, and law and order. Meanwhile, a new Victorian police anti-terrorism unit is attempting to make me feel safer while I am assured that my children and I will benefit from improvements in schools and hospitals.

What the pre-announcement electioneering is totally devoid of is any innovation - something that is very close to the hearts of those in the IT industry. Not only is there nothing new in the way politicians are selling themselves, but there is also no genuinely good news for the thousands of information and communications technology (ICT) businesses in the state.

Plenty of noise is being made about programs with fancy names such as "Next Wave" and "Victorians. Bright Ideas. Brilliant Future." But little or nothing is really being done to give the industry that employs tens of thousands of Victorians a boost.

So what can the Victorian, or any state government for that matter, do to genuinely provide some support for the ITC industry?

For starters, it could provide a guarantee that tender processes for hardware, software development and maintenance services will be weighted towards local companies. Nobody expects or is asking for a free ride, but some understanding that buying local has benefits for the community would be appreciated.

It would be beneficial to the state if there were no more massive deals going to overseas-owned, interstate-based companies, thank you very much. Especially when there are perfectly viable local options.

Secondly, some recognition and understanding of the value of intellectual property would be appreciated, rather than leaving innovators with little other option than selling to overseas interests. Being a "smart state" does not just mean having local manufacturers, energy providers, transport networks and government agencies running whiz-bang solutions.

It also means having strong local companies that own the intellectual property and use it to develop wealth for the community by employing people to develop solutions and to sell them into secondary markets.

This can be achieved with better support for research and development through rebates, contributions and concessions.

Finally, it could greatly benefit state-based IT businesses if some purchasing power was returned to individual agencies, rather than the current preference for centralised collective bargaining. While economies of scale may well deliver some savings, costs are not all that gets cut.

Service levels are invariably less than they should be while local employment is also at the mercy of the razor. Just ask some of the country-based regional players how their staff numbers have been affected as a result of big deals being brokered in the big smoke.

Any political party that can address some or all of these issues is sure to get my vote.

Gerard Norsa, ARN's Melbourne-based editor at large, can be contacted at 03 9690 2933 or gerard_norsa@idg.com.au.


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