Too little too late

After Costello the Red hacked his way through the first Budget, the little recognition the recent IT statement gave was welcomeIt's no suprise that the information industries greeted the Government's long-awaited industry statement like starving men receiving their first food parcels in weeks.

Coming as it did some 20 months after Costello the Red had hacked and slashed his way through his first Budget, the little recognition the statement gave to the potential of the IT&T industries was very welcome.

And if the Government is hoping, as it clearly does hope, the plan wins back the support of business, it may get its wish.

The statement ignored many of the recommendations of Information Industries Taskforce chairman Professor Ashley Goldsworthy. The so-called industry blueprint also contains few measures specific to IT apart from some fine-sounding rhetoric.

As the former ACS president Tom Worthington said: "While many of the measures announced have potential benefits for the information industries, this policy generally falls short of what we are seeking to maximise both Australia's use of information technology and our role in the global information economy."

Nor does it seriously address the impediments to raising venture capital in Australia, a burning issue that's forced unknown numbers of our innovators to take their innovations off-shore over the years.

It does set aside $300,000 for second-hand government PCs for schools, announces plans to fund an additional 50 Australian Postgraduate Awards (Industry) over three years but makes no commitment to continuation of Cooperative Research Centres.

It seems Goldsworthy's report will now join the long list of reports on the information industries gathering dust on ministers' shelves. Why are we surprised?

Meanwhile if industry were looking for certainty after two uncomfortable years in the wilderness, the likelihood of a double dissolution election this year cannot offer much comfort. The Government's decision to increase R&D funding, its attempts to attract more venture capital and its investment of $28 million in a software test-bed centre over the next four years were meant to restore business confidence. All this is now eroded by the possibility the Coalition could lose power before it can carry through its promises - and that underlines the point that the Government's initiatives in this area can only be seen as too little, way too late.

This year the Government must rationalise its own coverage of the information industries to eliminate the overlap and confusion between the Office of Asset Sales and Information Technology Outsourcing, the Industry Department, the Office of Government Information Technology, the National Office of the Information Economy and the Communications Department.

It must address the issue of tariff classification for bridges, routers and other networking equipment, ensuring they come in duty free.

It must clean up the privacy mess it left when it reneged on its promise to impose privacy legislation on the private sector.

And it must fulfil its pledge to adopt the OECD guidelines on cryptography as the basis of policy rather than adopting the restrictive US stance.

Get these and other issues close to IT&T right and the Government might really give the industry the confidence it needs to make a difference.

Sue Bushell is a Canberra-based

political correspondent

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