Coonan board cold shoulders overseas vendors

Overseas vendors seeking to influence government IT and communications policy have been publicly frozen out of the policy-making loop, with IT and Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan opting for a blend of research and business brains in the selection of her ICT Advisory Board.

The ICT Advisory Board is the first major policy plank in the government's efforts to resuscitate the IT part of Coonan's portfolio in the wake of her predecessors and has been given the laudable task of providing "strategic advice on key issues affecting the development of ICT sector in Australia".

However, of nine prominent industry and research seats at the board, the sole overseas vendor appointment is Dr Phil Robertson, director of Canon Information Systems Research Australia.

Vendor representative group, Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has also been excluded in line with Coonan's repeated position that the board would not feature industry lobby groups.

The exclusion of the AIIA comes at a difficult time for the group as it grapples with the implications of a US patent lawsuit initiated by member organizations: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Apple against the Australian government's own research and development outfit CSIRO. Networking vendor NetGear is also a party to the action against CSIRO.

The suit is seeking a declaratory judgement against CSIRO over patents it lodged in 1994 for wireless broadband technology.

While conceding the exclusion of the AIIA had been widely interpreted as a snub, a spokesperson for Senator Coonan denied US-based vendors have been left off the policy board because they were now litigating with the Australian government.

The spokesperson said that "traditional paths" remained open to the vendor community and "no one was avoided" in the selection of the board.

The potential for conflict had the AIIA been appointed to the board is also underscored by appointments from research and development organizations, including the CSIRO ICT Centre director Dr Alex Zelinsky.

Other research appointments include National ICT Australia chief operating officer Ric Clark and Deakin University deputy vice chancellor Professor John Rosenberg.

Local vendors feature in the form of homegrown software merchants with HarvestRoad CEO Grame Barty and Data#3 managing director John Grant.

The rest of the board is comprised of Dominique Fisher, managing director of consulting firm EC Strategies, executive director of Macquarie Bank and head of technology investment banking business Dan Phillips and Sheryle Moon, director of industrial recruiter Manpower Services Australia.

Coonan has also charged one her most trusted and battle-hardened advisors, Shaun Anthony, with the task of redefining the way the IT industry engages with the government. Anthony previously spearheaded Coonan's rehabilitation of the insurance industry following the collapse of insurer HIH during her term as assistant treasurer.

Rob Durie, chief executive officer of AIIA, said he welcomed the announcement of the board and the commencement of the government's ICT priority setting in line with election promises and that the AIIA would continue to have direct ministerial contact and continue to maintain "excellent relations and access".

Durie refused to comment on the legal action against CSIRO by four of his member organizations.

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