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Wednesday, 16 January 2013 12:27

Digital economy policy development by stealth


The government has expanded the scope of a very public process to develop cyber security policy into one for the development of long term policy for the digital economy as a whole, but at the same time closed the door to public participation.

Remember Julia Gillard's Digital Economy Forum last October? It was held before an invitation-only audience of, according to the PM's press release, "more than 30 senior business representatives, entrepreneurs and industry bodies to discuss how Australia can best maintain an edge in growing the digital economy into the future."

In her closing remarks to that audience Gillard said: "We've been in the process of putting together a Cyber White Paper...But having listened to the discussion today I think we should broaden what we have been conceptualising as the Cyber White Paper, which would get people thinking about the security space...so it is more a digital White Paper and helps us capture some of the more profound and longer term issues that have been brought to the table."

Plans for the Cyber White Paper - which would have been more accurately described as a Cyber Security White Paper - were unveiled on 3 June 2011 in a joint press release from attorney-general Robert McClelland, minister for defence, Stephen Smith and communications minister, Stephen Conroy.

The press release said the white paper would "provide a comprehensive blueprint to help Australians connect to the Internet with confidence and would be "a comprehensive review of how governments, businesses and individuals can work together to realise the full benefits of cyberspace while at the same time ensuring current and emerging risks can be managed." The white paper was scheduled to be released in the first half of 2012.

On the same date a 'fact sheet' on the white paper was published on the web site of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. It promised that "The development of the Cyber White Paper will be informed heavily by the public consultation process beginning in the second half of this year, which will commence with the release of a discussion paper and website."

A discussion paper was duly released and submissions received. However following Gillard's expansion of the scope of the white paper the doors on public participation were firmly closed. The web site set up for the white paper has been closed down and none of the public submissions that were posted there are now available - except for those that submitters have published on their own web sites.

There is a tweet for the digital white paper (@Digital_WP) and its home page on Twitter still lists the non-existent web site (https://www.cyberwhitepaper.dpmc.gov.au)


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There is no web site for the new white paper; there has been no discussion paper publicly released and no invitation for the public to make submissions. It seems that the main, and perhaps the only, source of input to the expanded Digital Economy Agenda will be the select group invited to the Digital Economy Forum. Gillard told the audience at the Digital Economy Forum that the Government would be "calling on individuals around the room to be making some direct contributions to that process too.

OzHub, a coalition of cloud computing service providers is pushing the goal of making Australia the leading cloud-ready country in the region by 2020 and as part of this initiative is making a submission to the Digital White Paper. When queried about the process the organisation was unable to provide much information, except to say: "they are still accepting submission from a few organisations."

A blog posting last week from 'From Little Things', a news service focused on high tech startups, shed a little more light on the process: "A letter sent to participants by Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, says one of the six areas likely to be covered by the white paper is the promotion of 'digital innovation and a conducive regulatory environment to encourage innovation and investment in Australia's digital economy'." And, it said: "Submissions for the White Paper will close on Friday 11 January. You can provide your views by emailing SDD@pmc.gov.au."

Another morsel of information was revealed in Parliament in response to a question taken on notice from Greens senator Scott Ludlum in a Budget Estimates Committee hearing last October He asked for membership details of the last force working on the paper.

The answer came back on 4 January: "The Digital Economy White Paper will be written by an inter-departmental taskforce, comprising staff from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. This taskforce will also draw on relevant expertise from other agencies, particularly: the Treasury; the Attorney-General's Department; the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport; and the Department Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education."

When she announced that the Cyber White Paper was morphing into the Digital White Paper, Gillard said: "White Papers are of course powerful cross-government strategic documents that then drive government actions and policies for a long period of time to come," and that broadening the scope of the cyber white paper "helps us capture some of the more profound and longer term issues that have been brought to the table."

If the digital white paper is as important as she claims, the wider community should have a chance to participate and the process of its preparation should be more transparent.

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