Coonan retains IT ministry

Senator Helen Coonan has retained the Information Technology, Communications and Arts portfolio amidst speculation the Liberal government would replace her position with Finance Minister Nick Minchin.

But the portfolio is somewhat lighter given the fact that responsibility for the the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has been passed onto the Department of Finance and Administration. The Department of Human Services will also be included in the Finance portfolio.

Minchin has retained his Finance portfolio; however, Coonan (who insiders say wanted to keep the IT&T slot) will be entering what could soon become the most pressing months of her political life as Telstra moves to become privatized.

Telstra yesterday announced plans to outsource further jobs overseas (estimated at around 400), while the full privatization of the carrier is virtually guaranteed given that the Liberals have full control of the senate.

The reappointment of Coonan is said to come as a relief for industry groups like the Australian Information Industries Association (AIIA) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS), who have expressed a preference for retaining politicians familiar with IT issues, after the revolving ministerial door the IT industry experienced in the last 12 months.

The AIIA is impressed with the fact Coonan has been retained as Minister for Information Technology, Communications and Arts, citing that retaining the minister gives continuity within the portfolio.

Rob Durie, CEO of the AIIA, said ultimately the association will work with whoever was in the ministerial position, but is pleased with the announcement because it provides some continuity between industry and the government.

"We certainly welcome continuity because we have invested time and energy with Coonan and have been encouraged by her enthusiasm and willingness to engage with us," Durie said.

"We are keen to follow up on our key issue of capping liability for government contracts and the nature of private sector companies retaining commercial intellectual property of government projects and look forward to early implementation of those issues.

"We are broadly looking for straight development of industry, a better environment for SMEs in terms of raising capital. Also a proactive response to global sourcing, in our terms, is sorting out Australia's role in the global environment and to make sure we are bidding for work."

Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla said Prime Minister Howard's announcement of Coonan's retention in the IT&T portfolio means the IT industry in Australia can focus towards creating a long-term vision for the next 10 to 15 years.

"I have been twitchy all week with the possibility of another IT minister and Coonan shows genuine enthusiasm for the portfolio," Mandla said "We want to change the nature of the IT industry from being long hours in dark towers and raise the standard of computer literacy of Australian children; part of the strength of ICT is how we use it.

"Also we need improvements to our OECD rating (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) as last year we were number 19 and this year 25 - we need to set our ranking against other OECD countries so Australia is seen as a benchmark."

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More about Australian Computer SocietyAustralian Computer SocietyAustralian Information Industry AssocDepartment of Finance and AdministrationHISOECDOrganization for Economic Cooperation and DevelopmentTelstra Corporation

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