Coalition’s digital disconnect concerns IT industry

Posted on August 10, 2010


IF MANY members of the Australian internet industry were about to vote Liberal, Tony Abbott’s policy speech in Brisbane may have changed their minds.

According to Russell Yardley, a leading member of the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Internet Industry Association (AIIA), Mr Abbott’s outline of his policies on Sunday was ‘‘disappointing in the extreme; lacking in vision and without a single mention of the global digital economy and Australia’s need to be a vigorous part of it”.

The AIIA, the leading body for the information and communications technology (ICT) industry in Australia, today published an open letter expressing deep concern ”at the lack of debate on these critical issues”. Its members range from representatives of multinational and national companies whose experience spans global and local operations down to small businesses involved with technology in niche sectors.

Coalition spokesman on ICT, Tony Smith, is due to take part in a Press Club debate today with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy and Greens spokesman, Scott Ludlam. Industry figures fear that Mr Smith’s message will echo his leader’s view that the NBN is an expensive white elephant and should be scrapped and replaced by a so far unspecified cheaper alternative.

The AIIA letter calls on the government to ”elevate debate on Australia’s place in the future digital economy … and for all parties, including the opposition, to clarify their positions on ubiquitous high-speed digital infrastructure (the NBN) for all Australians and how they intend to maximise Australia’s place in the future global digital economy.

”This concern is not self-serving,” says the association’s letter, hammered out over the weekend by senior members of the group and signed by chief executive officer, Ian Birks. ”The short-term nature of the current debate could allow decisions following the election that will compromise our nation’s future prosperity, at a time when we should be investing for the post-resources period we will ultimately enter.”

The global economy of the future would increasingly be digital ”and the productivity of our nation in that economy will be one of the major determinants of our prosperity,” the letter says. It adds that according to the OECD, Australia’s growth in multifactor productivity now rates at 9th among 14 nations studied, at 0.4 per cent, and has been in decline since 2000. Investment in ICT by Australian governments and businesses declined by almost 50 per cent over the period.

”The World Bank in 2009 announced that each 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration adds 1.2 per cent to the annual GDP of high-income countries,” the AIIA said.

”For the future prosperity of Australia, the digital economy must be supported by all sides of politics; firstly through direct investment in ubiquitous high-speed digital infrastructure and secondly by embracing specific initiatives to take advantage of the transformational nature of the applications it enables,” the letter says.

The government is developing this with commitments to the National Broadband Network, smart electricity grids, electronic-health and the digital education revolution.

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