A council of Tasmanian ICT leaders will meet next month to reassess government approach to IT development in the financially troubled state, with expectations its members will focus heavily on economic advantages to be gained from the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout there.
The $1 million digital futures fund, announced in August to direct the state’s digital economy, was one of few IT projects spared by the state’s treasury this week, which flagged $3.9 million worth of cuts to programs in industries such as e-health and education.
The cuts were made in hopes of producing immediate savings significant enough to fix a $402 million fiscal deficit on the state’s books.
The fund is to be directed by the Digital Futures Advisory Council, which counts Wotif.com co-founder, Graeme Wood, and NBN Tasmania board member, Darren Alexander, among its seven members.
The board met for the first time before Christmas and is expected to meet again next month, but was yet to schedule meetings with either Premiers Bartlett or Giddings, or David O’Byrne, the newly instated Minister for Infrastructure, Development and Innovation.
Alexander, speaking in his capacity as president of state industry body Tas ICT, told Computerworld Australia the fund’s survival was a sign of continued support for the IT sector.
“While we have some reservations around the cutbacks, we understand that in very difficult times, difficult decisions need to be made,” he said.
“We’ve insisted that in the future we would expect for the state government department to look at ICT in Tasmania and understand it’s a critical part of the economy and our continual growth, even though small, needs to be recognised as a very important industry sector in Tasmania.”
It is unclear whether the $1 million digital futures fund will continue to focus on the areas left vacant by IT program cuts flagged this week, but Alexander said funding would be assessed based on individual merit and would ensure Tasmania is established with advantages.
Though only two weeks into the role, state Labor MP and new innovation minister O’Byrne was quick to hose down potential criticisms this week that the state government had failed to take advantage of forward opportunities such as the advanced rollout of the NBN ahead of mainland sites later this year.
“I’m soon to be meeting with [communications minister] Senator [Stephen] Conroy] in the coming weeks to discuss the NBN in Tasmania and how we can maximise the opportunity,” he told ABC Northern Tasmania radio drive presenter, Roisin McCann, earlier in the week.
Alexander said that, despite the NBN reaching the first set of mainland sites in Australia, Tasmania continued to hold a potential economic advantage which it could utilise.
“I would say right now one of the most important things is convincing small business that [the NBN] is a competitive advantage and there will be real savings in a small business operation, understanding things like Cloud computing and other benefits that will come to fruition as the rollout becomes more predominant,” he said, conceding the perils of early adoption had become a challenge for many in the initial pre-release sites.
The increased use of educational programs in the state had helped to explain the benefits of the fibre-to-the-home network, according to Alexander, but those same programs have already begun to spark discussion between communities as to whether specific locations will receive fibre connections or potentially inferior wireless and satellite technologies.
Not all of the members of the Tasmanian digital futures board are necessarily supportive of the NBN, however. At the World Computer Congress held in Brisbane last year, online enterpreneur and Wotif.com executive director Graeme Wood used his keynote speech to denounce the Federal Government’s use of taxpayer money to fund the network at a high cost.
According to a spokesperson for state Premier and Treasurer, Lara Giddings, more information will become available once the council had met to discuss priorities for use of the funds.
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