With only days until the government delivers its big spending, pre-election budget, IT and Communications Minister Daryl Williams has pulled out the cheque book to the tune of $308 million to prop up ITC research and development.
Federally funded R&D shop National ICT Australia Ltd (Nicta) will receive the lion's share of the money, being allocated "a $251 million extension of funding for the national ICT centre of excellence", according to a statement from Williams' office.
Other winners from the pre-election dash for cash include the ICT Incubators and Advanced Networks Programs (ANP). Described as "very high capacity and experimental networks to enable research and development of network technologies and applications such as e-health, e-science and film post-production", ANP will be boosted by $21 million to extend projects into 2006-7 – which the government said will bring total funding to $60 million since 1999.
Meanwhile, seeding and development cash for ICT start-ups from the Incubators Program (previously known as BITS) will lift by $36 million to $122 million. The money is pegged to last the Incubators Program to until 2008, although Williams' spokeswoman conceded that some previously allocated funds had been rolled over into the new figures.
Despite funding for Nicta and ANP continuing to be allocated on a non-recurrent basis, Williams' office was steadfastly pushing the funds as "all new money", with the spokeswoman saying that the Australian ICT landscape was being consistently monitored to iron out weak spots and boost opportunities.
A spokesperson for IT and communications shadow minister, Kate Lundy, immediately branded the funds as coming too late after numerous projects had been forced to endure long periods of uncertainty about their continuation.
"It's taken this long for the government to fund these projects; Labor has been calling for this since 2003," she said.
Nicta CEO Neville Roach welcomed the money with open arms, saying Nicta was committed to building an enduring, world-class research centre for Australia's economic benefit, adding that continued funding helped with long-term research projects.