QLD IT chief waits for go-ahead

The 38-year-old politician about to take charge of Queensland's information economy has first-hand experience with the Internet's limitations.

Paul Lucas, Queensland's novice minister for Innovation and the Information Economy, easily remembers his worst encounter with the Net. It involved repeated line dropouts that embarrassed and frustrated his initial efforts to teach his retired father how to surf the Internet.

A better experience came courtesy of auction site eBay and gave him a valuable insight into the enormous reach of the Internet. He was trying to replace a piece of lost childhood memorabilia - a metal drinks tray carrying pictures of Brisbane rugby league grand finalists.

"I was on eBay one day and put in a request for one. I was just amazed when two of them came up, one in good condition and one in ordinary condition. The chances of that happening were astronomical. It just astonished me that someone had something as esoteric as that for sale and even more astonishing that I could find it on the Web." Trained as a lawyer, Lucas buys books via Amazon.com and describes himself as "fairly computer literate, for a lay person".

As the new kid on the ministerial block, he may be a touch hazy about some of the players and issues affecting his new portfolio. Nor does he have a detailed grasp of what Australia's other states are doing. But he's clear as glass on what he expects the info economy to generate for Queensland: jobs and wealth.

First elected to state parliament only six years ago, Lucas has enjoyed a rapid rise to ministerial leather in Premier Peter "Smart State" Beattie's cabinet.

Properly speaking, Lucas is still minister-in-waiting of the renamed portfolio, which in the last ministry was called Communications and Information Technology.

He's the 19th and most junior minister in Beattie's new cabinet but Queensland's Officials in Parliament Act only permits 18 cabinet ministers.

So Lucas will have to wait until parliament meets later this month and amends the act before he can officially take up his post.

The name change from "information technology" to "information economy" may signal a mental gear change in the way Queensland's political elite views the digital revolution.

According to Lucas, "it sends the message that playing around with computers and sending things down the Internet aren't ends in themselves".

The real goal is to create economic benefits that operate to the advantage of all levels of the state's population, he says. "One of my roles is to ensure the vision of a smart state is not just for those in elite research enclaves but is spread throughout Queensland society as a whole. To do otherwise will ultimately lead to only marginal benefits for Queensland.

"Over the past three years, we've had a real focus on state policies with respect to information technology. My portfolio is an extension of that. Innovation is not just hard science but the practical application of smart ideas to doing things better." Lucas isn't a complete unknown to players in Queensland's infotech arena.

He was a sort of understudy to former Communications and Information Technology minister (now treasurer) Terry Mackenroth and is at least acquainted with many of the key industry groups and associations. One industry source characterised him as "very intelligent, with a positive, strategic view and someone who uses and understands technology".

For the next few months, say Lucas, he'll be in look-and-learn mode and his door will be open to all comers.

"My job will be to get out and talk with the private sector about what it is doing." He nominates former NSW premier Neville Wran as one of his political role models because "he was the first to show that Labor governments can and do work with the private sector and still maintain their principles as Labor governments".

Pete Young writes for The Industry Standard Australia

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