Polling Day

Imagine if we could somehow reclaim all the money spent by Governments on IT reports and establish a single Federal IT Ministry. Now there's something to think about on election day.

If we could plough all the money spent by our politicians on reports back into R&D and venture capital spending, we might conceivably be able to build a thriving, self-sustaining indigenous industry. We could go a long way down the path of redressing the massive IT&T trade deficit which currently sees us exporting, on some estimates, a paltry $1.5 million in software and content while importing a monstrous $8.6 million.

After three and a half years of government watching, this scribe could start a small paper recycling plant with all the IT&T reports and submissions lining her shelves.

Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with reports. However, one trouble is that after a while there gets to be something disturbingly repetitious about the content of said reports. The same views seem to be recycled over and over again.

A second, is that like the left hand kept ignorant of what the right hand is doing, IT falls into the scope of numerous different government departments.

And a third is that all too often governments ignore the policy advice offered, when it conflicts with their own ideology.

Government departments seem to just love conducting IT surveys.

For instance, by June 1995 there were estimates the Labor Government had already commissioned up to 42 IT surveys since taking power in 1983, with four studies under way into intellectual property alone.

Then the Howard Government turned to reports to restore its credibility with the IT community. After reneging on many of the major promises it made to the industry prior to the election, it sought to placate the industry with promises of action as soon as the results of the Mortimer report -- to be created with input from Ashley Goldsworthy's Information Industry Taskforce -- were in.

When it finally reported, the taskforce was scathing of present policies, saying a "hands-off attitude to industry policy and a myopic refusal to recognise incentives being offered by other nations will consign Australia to the 'second XI'".

Then the Mortimer report came out calling for government incentives to attract foreign investment, a $1 billion investment fund to attract new local technologies along with calls for innovation rebates and investment and R&D incentives.

Were there one Cabinet-level portfolio looking after all IT matters, the recommendations of such reports would surely be much harder for government to ignore.

As the ACS points out, part of the reason for Australia's apparent lack of vision might be the fact that decisions relating to IT are dispersed between six separate Commonwealth departments plus numerous agencies and authorities.

No single federal ministry provides vision or holds overall responsibility for this multifaceted industry.

If we but had a single, integrated Federal IT Ministry pushing Cabinet to act on the recommendations contained in all those IT reports, we could start seeing some progress on many of the log-jams besetting the industry.

And we might even save a forest-load or two of trees.

*Sue Bushell is a Canberra-basedpolitical correspondent

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