Defence outguns IT hopes

Information technology took a back seat in 2002-2003 Federal Budget, with border protection and the war on terrorism making Defence the big winner.

As a by-product of the big spend on Defence, e-security received a boost.

The Government has allocated $24.9 million over four years to continue with projects to protect Australia's national information infrastructure (NII).

The NII comprises the electronic systems that underpin critical services such as telecommunications, transport and distribution, energy and utilities, and banking and finance sectors.

The Attorney General's, Defence, and Communication, Information Technology and Arts portfolios will receive $16.2 million of this funding for initiatives within their agencies.

The Attorney General's Department will coordinate measures to identify and protect the critical elements of the NII, including the creation of a national early warning system and information sharing arrangements with the private sector.

The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) will invest $1 million over four years in e-security initiatives.

The funding will be used by NOIE to provide a low-cost information program providing tools to SMEs to deal with specific threats and develop risk management strategies; e-security skills enhancement; raising e-security as an R&D priority; and improved coordination between the Commonwealth, states and territories.

Treasurer Peter Costello also outlined in his budget speech a series of technology-related projects that Customs will underetake as part of the Government's expanded domestic security program, including the development of a new biometric passport to be funded by an increase in the passport fee.

During 2002-03, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will undertake research and development into the introduction of a facial biometric identifier for the Australian passport.

The biometric identifier will consist of measurements from the digital image of an applicant's passport photograph. Research will also focus on identifying verification procedures.

The Government said depending on the results of the research, a decision on the introduction of a biometric identifier could be made next year.

Customs will also receive $42 million over four years to obtain access to airline reservation systems to allow better screening of arrivals and departures for counter-terrorism measures. An additional $12.8 million will go to Customs to trial the development of a new high frequency surface wave radar that allows over-the-horizon target detection.

On the training front, the Government announced funding for 25,000 IT apprenticeships, valued at $1100 each. The Government is also looking to increase IT skills among mature workers with 11,500 training assistance packages valued at $500 on offer per annum. The packages cover basic computer training.

For telecommunications, the Government announced $8.3 million in funding to improve telecommunications and Internet services to remote indigenous communities.

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