The Federal Government’s report outlining the proposed future framework for the information and communications technologies industry in Australia has been rushed into the public domain three weeks early after being leaked by disgruntled members of its steering committee. Entitled, Enabling Our Future: A Framework for the Information and Communications Technology Industry, the report, from the steering committee to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston, puts the size of the ICT sector in Australia at 22,000 businesses directly providing 250,000 jobs with ICT production contributing about $50 billion or almost 8 per cent of GDP to the economy. While still thin on precise details or expenditures, the report reinforces a clear move by government away from decentralised control and expenditure back to an overtly recentralised model with a heavy emphasis on defence and regional security. Shadow minister for IT, Senator Kate Lundy, said the report was a “failed ‘framework for the future’ [and] a pathetic excuse for a policy vision and a waste of time for industry, for government and for future generations”. Describing the recommendations as a “litany of excuses for failure and an attempt to avoid responsibility”, Lundy called for Senator Richard Alston to resign. “It does nothing to identify where Australia might have strategic or competitive advantages, let alone suggest how we could take best advantage of them,” she said. There has been speculation that other contributors to the report were unhappy with the outcome, but did not want to make comment on public record. A spokesperson for Senator Alston defended the report describing it as “a work in progress” that had been released as a means of receiving feedback on the ICT industry. The first recommendation of the report states: “Commonwealth, state and territory governments should work together to articulate ICT goals, and develop and urgently implement strategies to harness ICT to achieve broad national objectives in areas such as health, education and security, and improve coordination of programs.” Government and vendor meetings are slated for within three months, including the Online Council to be convened by the Commonwealth. Recommendations for research and development include that National ICT Australia (NICTA), the Commonwealth Science and Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) provide “a role in focusing research on national objectives”. A source within Senator Alston’s office readily concede that not everyone on the report’s committee is happy with its strategic focus — and that it’s release had been brought forward to circumvent further speculation. The source added that certain committee members had “axes to grind” in regard to comments that they were “embarrassed” by the report. Responding to criticism, Senator Alston said the report concluded that a framework for the ICT sector needed to be set in broader context. “The report makes recommendations on a wide range of issues ranging from innovation to advanced networks, and will provide a broad platform for the development of the ICT industry in Australia over the next five to ten years,” Alston said. “I think to the extent that that is said [the report is embarrassing] — and I’m not sure that has been said on the record — I think that misunderstands the nature of the exercise”. The “precise nature of the exercise” will be revealed by Peter Costello on the night of the May 13; providing it is not leaked. In other news, National ICT Australia (NICTA) now has a permanent CEO. Dr Mel Slater has replaced the caretaker CEO, Brian Anderson. Dr. Slater is a former vice-president of the Global Software Group and has held positions on boards at the University of California and the University of Illinois.
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