Budget 2014: What is funded and what is cut?

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Budget 2014: What is funded and what is cut?

Supercomputers in, regulators out.

There are no big ticket ICT projects in an austere 2014 Federal Budget, but plenty of cuts to keep the IT industry on tenterhooks. 

iTnews has combed the budget papers find out what Joe Hockey's first budget means for technology:

What is funded?:

  • Undisclosed funding for the Bureau of Meteorology to build its super-computer, with the weather agency currently testing the market for the work.
  • $140.6 million in 2014-15 for the continued operation of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system ,while the Government finalises its response to the review of the system. 
  • $100 million over four years for the mobile blackspots program, aiming to improve coverage and competition in the provision of terrestrial mobile voice and wireless broadband services to regional areas of Australia.
  • $31.3 million will pay for enhancements to Australia’s border protection services to commence in 2014-15, including the use of ICT and data intelligence to better target and intercept illegal trade and travellers.
  • $12.1 million over four years will go towards maintaining and upgrading the Australian Financial Security Authority’s core IT systems, used for managing personal insolvency and proceeds of crime matters. The cost of this measure is fully offset over five years through increased cost recovery fees and charges.
  • $10 million over four years will aim to improve the protection of children online. Funding will be provided in three parts, including $7.5 million to provide online safety programs for schools; $0.1 million to support Australian-based research and information campaigns on online safety; and $2.4 million to establish and operate the Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner.
  • $3.8 million over four years to enhance and expand the Higher Education Information Management System (HEIMS) for universities and other higher education providers.
  • $2 million in capital funding over two years for biometric systems software and equipment to expand the Offshore Biometrics Program. Government expects the investment to return a dividend of $18.6 million over four years by introducing user-pays arrangements for visa services and biometric collection services with third-party service delivery partners.

What is cut?:

  • The Government has confirmed it will cease funding for National ICT Australia (NICTA) in two years time. Just under $85 million has been committed to maintaining operations in the interim. NICTA will transfer to a private funding model in 2016.
  • $111.4 million over four years has been taken out of the operation budget of the CSIRO, on top of an efficiency dividend costing the organisation $5 million over the forward estimates. 
  • Savings of $14.4 million over five years will come from ceasing the Diagnostic Imaging Quality Program. Up to $4.4 million of this will come from not proceeding with grant funding for the eHealth Summit and implementation of clinical trial functionality into jurisdictional ehealth systems.
  • Up to $845.6 million will be saved by scrapping a range of grant programs aimed at funding innovation and start-up businesses from 1 January 2015, including Australian Industry Participation; Commercialisation Australia; Enterprise Solutions; Innovation Investment Fund; Industry Innovation Councils; Enterprise Connect; Industry Innovation Precincts; and Textile, Clothing and Footwear Small Business and Building Innovative Capability.

Shared services

The Government hopes to achieve savings of $2.4 million over four years by consolidating the back office functions of the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, Old Parliament House, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Museum of Australia and the National Archives of Australia. 

It has avoided using the term 'shared services' to describe the move, but corporate services make up much of the scope of what is being consolidated.

The back office amalgamation is part of a public service restructure Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said aims to "eliminate duplication, remove waste, streamline Government services and reduce the cost of government administration for taxpayers".

The whole package, including the dismantling of dozens of other federal entities, is expected to save $500 million over the forward estimates.

Comms grabs new functions

The Department of Communications has emerged as the closest thing to a winner in the 2014-15 Budget, with a raft of new responsibilities added to its remit.

The Government will transfer the functions of the Office of Spatial Policy from the Department of Industry into Communications. It maintains that Comms is a better fit for the spatial data management functions, which can now be leveraged alongside its support for the e-Government agenda and the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

The Government will abolish the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency and also transfer its functions, which include monitoring telco's obligations to provide services such as public payphones and the National Relay Service for the hearing impaired, into Communications as well.

At the same time it will reduce the industry levy telcos pay per year by $1 million.

More generally an audit of regulation in the Communications portfolio will be completed by the end of the year and with a report to Parliament due in early 2015.

Less staff, less tech on desks

Budget papers anticipate that by 2016-17, the average size of the Australian Public Service will have reduced by 16,500 compared to 2013-14 levels.

Some 14,500 of these job losses are the result of decisions in the 2013-14 Budget, the 2013 Economic Statement and other policy settings. Around 2000 are the result of the 2014-15 Budget.

The largest reduction will take place within the Australian Taxation Office.

As an indicative figure, end-user infrastructure costs given in the Australian Government's own ICT benchmarking points to a spend of roughly $3500 per public servant, which could mean that staff cuts have the potential to reduce demand on the ICT purse by $60 million a year.

Still thinking about the Commission of Audit

Cormann confirmed that he and the Government have yet to make any decision's on the IT-related recommendation's of the National Commission of Audit, such as the potential outsourcing of Department of Human Serivces payment systems, making myGov online services an opt-out function and a Government-wide cloud-first policy.

It has, however, acted upon a recommendation to merge the IT-hungry Border Protection and Customs functions.

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