The Old Bard has never fooled me with his grand one-liners. Lately, though, I’ve had a very thespian urge to strut a stage and deliver a line in a booming voice: “Something is rotten in the kingdom of IT!” Or was that the department of IT? Well, take your pick.
There are only two ways to look at the state of the industry’s relations with the state and federal governments: Either IT has reached the maturation age, but refuses to go drinking without parental supervision; or its use-by date has politically expired on both sides of the legislative spectrum but neither is willing to openly discuss the new rules of engagement. Choose whichever you prefer, but remember — that line from Hamlet still stands!
Last week, the NSW government sent a powerful message to the industry when it folded the previously standalone IT portfolio into the Department of Commerce — together with Fair Trading, Industrial Relations, and Public Works and Services. An interesting choice. Judging by the grouping of sectors, it seems like Bob Carr is intent on following in the footsteps of his federal counterpart and turn the state government’s legislative powers in the direction of consumer-voter preferences, rather than industry development. What better way to say that the relationship with the industry — whose wealth and job creation performance is no longer the backbone of Australia’s growth — has turned from a strategic asset into political liability.
Things are not much better on the federal side of things where attempts to develop the local IT industry have almost as a rule, failed to satisfy the government’s own policy requirements. Like the fact that whenever large multi-national outsourcers working on a big government contract fail to deliver on their local sub-contracting and job creation targets, the government fails to deliver on its promise to facilitate local resellers’ access to those contracts by not calling the big boys to task.
Had her own party not been accused of the same shortcomings at the state level, Kate Lundy’s fervent attack on Richard Alston’s delivery of the outsourcing policy would have offered the community a glimpse of hope. This way, it is simply hypocritical, for the truth is that in a market-driven world, there really isn’t a role for the government to prop up the local industry — especially now that it has ceased to be one of its primary job creators. Get my drift? Cynical this may be, but did anyone really expect things to be different?
I mean, here we are, in the age of economic rationalism, deluding ourselves that governments have the responsibility to help the industry up from the doldrums, when — as the last week’s downgrading of the NSW IT portfolio graphically showed — the governments themselves are not that convinced that the industry needs further assistance.
Yet, a few choose to remember the fact that the IT sector’s coming of age doesn’t just mean less government assistance, but also the need to stand up and be counted. And the truth is that the local industry has done little in coming together and forcing the government/s to own up to their promises. And, as the Bard said, there’s not much point in offering your kingdom for a horse when the king feels that the only way back to the throne is by flogging a dead one.