Okay, so the election candy was pretty light on. Information technology is obviously not as vote-a-licious as many other areas of public policy, despite what we in the IT trenches think. The big news since the previous article is of course the release of Labor’s budget, but there aren’t really any surprises in the IT space there. In this article we’re not going to be reviewing whether the numbers stack up or not. Rather, we’re just going to try to untangle where there are intersections with our sector and what they might mean. We’ll avoid items already considered in Part 1.
Australian Investment Guarantee
The high-level summary is that “all businesses in Australia will be able to immediately deduct 20 per cent of any new eligible asset worth more than $20,000, with the balance depreciated in line with normal depreciation schedules from the first year”. In practice this is unlikely to have a big impact on IT, as 20% of $20,000 is not a lot of IT infrastructure (or any infrastructure) for a medium-sized organisation. Many are now turning to the cloud as the first option (for start-ups) or migrating to the cloud (for established businesses). This shifts the expense from a capital item to a P&L item immediately, rendering these types of depreciation changes a moot point for many in the IT space.
eSmart Digital Licence
Both parties have jumped on this, offering more money and promoting The Alannah & Madeline Foundation and Dolly’s Dream for educating youth about cyber bullying (head to digitallicence.com.au and amf.org.au for more information on what this is exactly). It’s an important area that is getting some attention politically, but with promises of $2.5m (Labor; specifically for this Foundation) and $10m (Liberal; NFPs can apply for grants from this pool), it’s not a huge line item.
Early intervention has been shown to be vastly more cost-effective for numerous public health issues — whether it’s mental health, diet, sport, weight, dental, literacy, juvenile justice and so on. I don’t think this will be any different. Any of us who have kids or who know kids will be familiar with how much the digital world pervades their life. In the same way that you teach your kids to eat their greens, do their homework or 100 other things, helping them navigate the digital world safely is now a reality for adults. And it’s a responsibility that has a multiplier effect. Trying to help someone unravel difficulties becomes vastly harder and more expensive the later you intervene.
Another way to look at this is: consider the number of words coined in the past 10 years to describe online abuse in one form or another — the list is large, toxic and growing fast. The programs cited above can’t prevent all cyber abuse and bullying, but they aim to help vulnerable people avoid it in the first instance, and help those who have suffered as a result pick up the pieces.
Regional IT — “Labor’s plan for Regional Development”
Labor has committed around $245m to improving regional communications. This is a mix of nbn rollout, nbn upgrades (the ‘sorry-you-didn’t-get-fibre-first-time package’), mobile blackspots and a more nebulous “… improve digital connectivity and digital literacy in regional areas …” We haven’t seen more detail about what this entails, but if it achieves meaningful change it could open up careers in the sector to people who are currently geographically and digitally remote, and also make it possible for people to move whilst not necessarily forsaking their career. Whether you like it or not, outsourcing overseas demonstrates that work can be done remotely so long as the workers can be in touch reliably and have the requisite skills. This announcement speaks to both — only time will tell how successful it will be, however.
Labor has announced that it will waive upfront fees for 5000 students enrolling in IT-related courses at TAFE, and has explicitly stated that it wants 50% of these places to go to women. This announcement supports earlier policy statements promoting equity in STEM, and also the regional IT announcements through the announcement of Regional Study Hubs.
Both Liberal and Labor have announced other broader policies around education. The Liberals have claiming $21.4bn for schools, $3bn for vocational education and $17.7bn for universities. Labor has announced money for preschools, schools, TAFE and universities — the top level numbers look to be around $34bn and around $12bn in education-related commitments.
With both parties it’s not clear at first glance how much of this is increasing base funding or specific commitments to a program versus the current funding arrangements. What is clear is that both parties have identified education as a key item. Whether this ultimately flows through to a better-educated IT sector will depend on some downstream items. For example, Labor has specifically earmarked 5000 of the 100,000 TAFE courses for IT. After this stage you’re looking for industry and government to pick up the ball.
There are announcements that target industry (for example, R&D announcements and space sector announcements to promote high-tech investment) but there isn’t a lot from any party about IT within government itself. It’s outside the scope of this article, but I’d like to see some acknowledgement from the parties that the Australian Government needs to build its core IT capabilities so that it can successfully plan and implement complex IT projects and manage an increasingly complex IT environment.
Ultimately, we’ll have to wait to see how any proposed plans actually play out in Parliament (particularly the Senate), and obviously on the ground. We’d like to see positive movement on some items that have been noticeable for their absence in this election — privacy, encryption and serious incentives for highly skilled individuals to remain in the public service, to name just a few.
How do you think the promises of the parties stack up? — Let us know!