Tas ICT minister puts digital futures council in driver’s seat

Council to meet this month with aim to form ICT priority areas

Newly instated minister for science, innovation and technology, David O’Byrne, is relying on a meeting with the Digital Futures Advisory Council this month to provide direction on the future of ICT in the state’s policy and economy.

The advisory council was established by former Premier, David Bartlett, in December last year as a means of providing industry advice on key ICT areas. It is chaired by University of Tasmania pro vice-chancellor for research, Paddy Nixon, and includes Wotif.com co-founder, Graeme Wood, and NBN Tasmania board member, Darren Alexander, among its seven members.

The group is expected to meet for the second time this month following an introductory meeting last year, with expectations it will formulate priority areas and determine preliminary use of the $1 million digital futures fund allocated in the 2010/2011 state budget last year.

Those priority areas as yet remain unclear, but Alexander has said any submissions would be based on individual merit.

The council is yet to meet with O'Byrne and has had no meetings to date with either Bartlett or current Premier, Lara Giddings.

The $1 million digital futures fund is one of the few technology programs to be spared by the mid-year budget review in January, which flagged $3.9 million worth of cuts to programs in the areas of e-health and education.

O’Byrne stressed that ICT had not been singled out by the budget cuts, which were made to fix a $402 million fiscal deficit on the state’s books, and that priorities flagged under Bartlett’s ministry - including the $93 million innovation strategy - were still on track.

However, in admitting he lacked the knowledge and experience of his predecessor, O’Byrne told Computerworld Australia he would be relying on the council and other advisory committees to form greater knowledge of ICT in Tasmania and its required priorities.

They will ultimately form part of the state government’s ten-year economic development strategy, to be launched in June this year with hopes it will minimise side effects of the economic downturn and the dire straits the state’s economy has faced in recent months.

“If we need to be ahead of the curve, we need to make sure of that with industry people, through the digital futures council and through the other advisory committees we have,” he said. “[The council is] not just about ticking and flicking on funding ideas - that’s part of it - but to me it’s a real driver of ideas and a real driver of the innovation strategy more broadly.

“I think some governments across the globe see this as a separate issue - we’ll establish a committee [on ICT] at the fringes of economic debate. My view is that the ICT industry and digital futures strategy in context of the innovation strategy is crucial to the future of the Tasmanian economy and I want mainstream thinking.”

As well as being the state minister for economic development, infrastructure and workplace relations, O’Byrne took on the science, innovation and technology ministerial portfolio from Bartlett when the former Premier stepped down in January this year.

O’Byrne said his current tasks - listening and building relationships in the industry - would form part of a long-term ICT plan to last up to the next 15 years.

“The role of government is to get out of the way and identify we can be a hurdle to some industries and certain markets developing," he said. "In some areas it’s about incubating ideas and providing investment in strategic or operational resources to encourage companies to grow or industries to prosper.”

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags ICTDavid BartlettDigital Futures Advisory CouncilDavid O'ByrneTas ICT minister

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