The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide

It’s about time Australia had a PM with a little love in his heart for IT

In all the post mortems I have read about John Howard's downfall I've seen no mention of the part IT played. Yet I believe that it was the then federal government's ignorance of IT that was the first thing Kevin Rudd exploited to paint himself as a man of the future. His ambitious proposal to roll out a high-speed broadband service was really his first big policy announcement. At the time it was something of a gamble as he proposed to raid The Future Fund to help finance it. Yet it was a gamble that clearly had the support of the Australian people.

I doubt many in IT will lament the passing of the Howard government. It was always apparent this was a government more at home with wheat and wool than it was with bits and bytes. (A source at the Australian Computer Society (ACS) once told me that a Howard minister who held cabinet responsibility for IT was incapable of using a PC. His PA had the daily chore of printing out all his e-mails so he could read them.)

I first wrote about the then federal government's neglect of IT back in a 1999 column in this magazine. The still young government had come to the ridiculous conclusion that outsourcing federal government IT functions lock, stock and barrel to US multinationals was a way to generate major cost savings. As I pointed out, there was little proof anywhere that outsourcing IT could save money. Moreover, this policy undermined a vibrant IT community in Canberra that had traditionally played a vital role as a catalyst in embracing and implementing new and emerging technologies in Australia. Yet it took close to four years before the policy of enforced outsourcing was abandoned. An Australian National Audit Office report revealed that after two years the outsourcing initiative had cost nearly three times what was budgeted.

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