Though the debate still rages on about what importance information and communications technology should be given in the leadup to the Federal election 2010, the only thing clear is that tech policies are notably missing. Some policies do exist of course, but for the most past they are rehashes of existing legislation and commitments, or a continuation of opposition to those.
Labor is yet to deliver any new promises on technology; only that it will continue with those promises it has made since the 2007 election, and budget commitments up until now. The only semblance of new policy from Labor has come in the form of an extension of the NBN rollout, from 90 per cent of premises connected with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology, to 93 per cent - or 300,000 extra homes. But even here, the policy isn’t new - the NBN Implementation Study commissioned by the Government found it would be financially and technically feasible to extend the eligibility.
In fact, the NBN only seemed to appear when it was convenient - that is, when the Labor party released it was one of the only points of differentiation between the two parties.
There is also the matter of an IT ministry which, as far as speculation goes, may come to pass under a Gillard Government. But that isn’t an election promise.
Neither is the report that the Labor party will reallocate Gershon funds which, if true, seems to be moving backwards in technology rather than the steps dear Julia would look a sustainable Australia to take.
The Liberal party is hardly different. Its tactic of opposing everything and anything to come out of Labor campaign headquarters - while offering no alternative of its own - finally found favour with voters this week when Joe Hockey announced the party would block legislation around the Labor party’s mandatory ISP-level filter, even if they lost the election. This doesn’t mean that the Liberals are an apt choice for running Government; just that, whoever wins, the filter and its proponents lose.
For the most part then, amidst the cries of boat people and real politicians, it seems IT has been left out of the picture.
Over the past three weeks, Computerworld Australia has polled the bodies that represent the information technology and telecommunications industries at large on their policy wishlists for the parties.
The most vocal of these has been the Internet Industry Association (IIA), which released a 51-page manifesto consisting 23 recommendations, at the top of which lay the desire for bipartisan support on fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband. The body’s chief executive, Peter Coroneos, told Computerworld Australia that the Liberal party had been amazed at the depth of research and scope of study in the report.
However, as yet, no official response from either major party.
The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) have been equally loud, hosting a lunch at which communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, pre-empted the release of NBN footprint maps. Its wishlist centers around the creation of a “Productivity Minister”: A new cross-portfolio position that would bring the disaggregated IT responsibilities into harmony without creating what the body sees as another “silo”.
The Government has a job to do, and it can't submit to the wishes of every Tom, Dick and Harry; Australians know how that turned out. But those wishes, among the chorus of voices currently shouting out in the wider community, certainly deserve the right to be heard.
Tomorrow as the Greens, Labor and Liberal debate on ICT at the National Press Club, perhaps they will.
But unless something dramatic happens - such as a Liberal communications policy - it is unlikely the industry's voice will be heard.