Biotechnology steals IT limelight in Qld budget

Biotechnology has ousted information technology as the flavour of the future in Queensland government circles.

After enjoying the lion's share of State budget technology funding for a decade and a half, the IT sector was disappointed by this week's 2001-2002 budget.

The centrepiece of Premier Beattie's "Smart State" budget is a $100 million capital fund aimed at stimulating research and development in the biotech sector.

Information and Innovation Economy Minister Paul Lucas tried to put the right spin on the new fund at an Australian Information Industry Association luncheon.

A vigorous biotech industry would be a high consumer of IT&T services, he told an audience of Queensland's leading industry players.

"It is information-hungry with a high demand for supercomputers and effective high speed communications devices."

But his message didn't play well with many in the audience, particularly those representing State-based small-to-medium businesses (SMBs).

They felt any convergence benefits will flow to the same multinational vendors whom they believe already receive an undue proportion of state Government spending.

"Biotechnology is clearly the Premier's favourite," said AIIA Queensland branch president Simon Porter.

He conceded biotechnology was part of the overall technology sector. However, for a "good percentage" of his members, the new $100 million Smart State Research Facility Fund will have no impact, he said.

Lucas addressed about 450 people representing a broad cross-section of IT interests in both the public and private sectors.

Notable by its absence from his luncheon speech was any detailed mention of electronic commerce.

Where last year's budget presented the Government's e-commerce efforts as a linchpin of its strategy, this year Lucas mentioned the word once and only in passing.

"It is disappointing," said the AIIA's Porter. "The "e" in government in Queensland has a long way to go."

Among other budget items related to technology were:

* $18.2 million to connect all state schools to the Internet by the end of the year, including purchase of new computers and providing support.

* $16.6 million for the progressive rollout of Access Queensland, a program to provide a single point of contact for citizens transacting business with government.

* $2 million for ongoing upgrades of supercomputing facilities shared by Queensland tertiary institutions and industry.

* $1 million for 80 student multimedia scholarships* A total of $600,000 for various other training programs within institutions and communities to develop IT&T skills.

Lucas outlined funding for a new position of business development officer in Queensland's Agent-General's office in London to assist companies entering the UK and European market.

About 300 Queensland IT companies now export $400 million worth of products annually, he said.

The new position, to be trialed for 12 months, will gather market intelligence and provide export advice.

He also announced his intention to create a taskforce that will be established to identify improvements to government procurement procedures which would help Queensland's smaller IT&T companies.

Queensland is due to usher in a new purchasing policy on July 1 and the taskforce's job will be to further refine it to meet ongoing concerns among SMBs.