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Wednesday, 13 May 2009 17:56

ACS still beating digital economy drum in wake of budget

Despite some prominence given to ICT issues in the budget, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) is yet again calling for the federal government to frame a strategy for developing Australia’s digital economy, which it clearly believes is a ‘golden egg’ just waiting to be hatched.

However, there’s no signs the government is taking much notice of the repeated calls by the ACS, over several months, for it to frame a national ICT strategy for developing the digital economy, although the society does acknowledge what it sees as a link in the budget between ICT investment and economic prosperity.

In yet another plea to the government, a day after it handed down its budget, the ACS says there’s still a need for a digital economy framework, which will support Australia’s core digital capabilities and strengths, as a blueprint for economic growth.

While the ACS says it’s pleased ICT issues have been given greater prominence in the budget, including greater acknowledgement of the link between ICT investment and economic prosperity, it maintains that bringing Australia’s digital economy to life will require both an “overall framework and specific plans built around core areas such as e-health, e-security and e-learning.”

ACS CEO Kim Denham says the government “ must develop appropriate policy, taxation, regulations and other support necessary for these areas to flourish.  It’s disappointing that some of these segments which may hold the greatest opportunity for our economy appear to be largely unaddressed within this year’s Budget.”

According to Denham, greater acknowledgement by the government of the link between ICT investment and economic prosperity is particularly evident within the announcements in the innovation area, where, she says, “the initial investment of $4.7 billion in our National Broadband Network (NBN) provides a significant boost to our sector and is critically important to the Australian community.”

“However, beyond this basic infrastructure, Australia is sitting on a golden egg when it comes to our digital economy.

Denham says the ACS welcomes the higher education initiatives announced yesterday in response to the Bradley Review, but she stresses that the government must address the need to attract more students into ICT and science disciplines.
“Australia will continue to face an ongoing skills demand within the ICT area. We would like to see some investment in ICT skills foresighting to make sure the students are studying the skills that are going to be needed by our industry over the next 10 years. In a student demand driven system for higher education, we need to ensure we don’t end up with a mismatch between student demand for courses and the skills being demanded by industry.”

While the ACS doesn’t think the government has gone far enough, by a long shot, on the issue of the digitial economy, it does, nevertheless, welcome the introduction of small business tax concessions for investment in new capital items, such as computer hardware.
Denham says, however, that the ACS would like to see consideration given to extending these incentives beyond 2009 with a “focus around Australian owned products and services including software and ICT services,” which would provide a means of “helping to power Australia’s economic recovery and boost employment for ICT professionals.”

Budget initiatives identified by the ACS as relevant to the Australian ICT sector, and positive news for the industry, include the $80 million rural and regional NBN initiative, small business tax breaks with incentives to invest in capital items such as computer hardware, the $10 million small business online program, new R&D tax credit, $185.5 million in funding for NICTA, and establishment of a $196.1 million Commonwealth Commercialisation Institute to develop a radical new approach to commercialising the best Australian research.

Overall, the budget, according to Denham, has delivered “some solid opportunities for the ICT sector – particularly in a challenging economic environment,” and, she says, the ACS “look forward to a continued conversation around ICT issues in the coming year as our economy builds towards a recovery. 

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