IT policy fight goes bare knuckle

In a move that falls somewhere between positive encouragement and a blunt instrument, IT has fallen into centre stage under Labor's industry policy released today, with public and private sector IT buyers being firmly guided to choose Australian products and services whenever making IT procurement decisions.

According to a policy statement from Labor's shadow for Industry Innovation and Science and Research, Kim Carr, "A Latham Labor government will consider local products fairly, ensure value for money and encourage training in local industry, and keep jobs in Australia."

While cautiously stopping short of any specific compulsive measures, the policy effectively means Australian companies competing for government IT tenders will need to be considered in government IT procurement decisions, forcing outsourcers to spell out how they will contribute to either industry or employment better than local companies.

"[The Buy Australian] strategy will include procurement guidelines, requirements for, tenderers [and] obligations on senior public servants to consider Australian industry participation, and an SME participation policy," according to Carr's policy statement.

The policy has serious implications for vendors attempting to sell into the public sector IT space at federal, state and local levels as it will require them to either build-in local industry participation or prove a superior offering of product or service.

In terms of how the Buy Australian policy will be metered out, Carr's policy will form a "Buy Australian Council to jointly advise the minister for Finance and the minister for industry whether the Buy Australian Policy is developing Australian industry and creating jobs [and] whether it is maintaining value for money".

Predictably, the policy is being received well by local IT companies in highly marginal areas such as South Australia.

According to the CEO of memory and component manufacturer Legend Corporation Brad Dowe, Labor's position makes sense and will enable his company to grow in the global marketplace.

"If it's real, it means that we will be able to continue to grow operations and continue our investment in R&D and manufacturing in Australia. It means we will be able to grow our R&D graduate training program and add to our 100-plus staff."

The full policy statement is being announced now in Brisbane; more details to follow.

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