ACS backs off over Labor IT portfolio shift to industry

As Australia's political foes slog it out over IT purchasing and industry support issues, the country's peak IT lobby, the Australian Computer Society (ACS), found itself doing a spot of political gymnastics over the weekend about which ministerial portfolio ought to take command of IT.

Initially, ACS president Edward Mandla warned Labor's promise to move responsibility for IT policy from the Department of Communications IT and the Arts (DCITA) to the Department of Industry could set Australia's IT industry back a decade.

Mandla also described the move of IT to the industry portfolio as "a backwards step", adding, "The [ICT] industry should not have to talk to three ministers or department heads about its initiatives," and that ICT deserved a seat in Cabinet.

The ACS stance clearly irked Labor's Kate Lundy, who was clearly banking on support for what she saw was a portfolio upgrade in the shift of her ministry and IT portfolio responsibility across to the Department of Industry.

After initial tensions cooled, Mandla swiftly issued a clarification on the group's position after he placed a conciliatory a phone call to Lundy to resolve misunderstandings and differences in the so-far long and agreeable relationship between the ACS and Labor.

Within hours of the first ACS statement being issued, a clarification was dispatched by Mandla politely stepping away from the harsh words.

"Following discussions with Shadow Minister Senator Kate Lundy, Mr Mandla recognizes some merit in the intention of the ALP to continue with a separate Minister for IT - allowing the Minister to focus on what is now recognized as a major employer of a skilled workforce and a growing export earner for Australia, as well as having a major security and infrastructure role in the economy," a revised ACS statement said.

Mandla is understood to be writing to Labor leader Mark Latham to ask him to ensure "the Information Technology Minister be appointed a senior minister in a Latham Cabinet".

IT Minister Senator Helen Coonan made quick mileage out of exploiting any perceived rift between the ACS and Labor.

"Labor has never had a Minister for Information Technology or an arm of the public service with responsibility for information technology. Under Labor, there was no federal/state government online council.

"Under Labor, the industry will be forced to deal with three ministers on ICT issues - one for ICT industry, one for communications and one for online policies," Coonan's policy statement said.

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