'Gagged' blogger quits Queensland ICT Workgroup

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'Gagged' blogger quits Queensland ICT Workgroup

Over claims industry body is a Minister's mouthpiece.

A vocal critic of the Queensland Government’s ICT strategy has quit his posts at Software Queensland and Queensland’s ICT Industry Workgroup in protest after a new governance policy insisted he refrain from using a personal blog to criticise the Government.

Bruce Mills has represented industry group Software Queensland on the Queensland Government’s ICT Industry Workgroup for two years.

The ICT Workgroup, funded by the Queensland Government, is led by executive officer Paul Campbell and is made up of representatives of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), The Australian Computer Society (ACS) and Software Queensland.

The Workgroup has been responsible for some successful initiatives – including the formulation of a policy to subject all Government ICT projects valued at over $2 million to an independent review.

It also produces an annual scorecard rating the Queensland Government’s performance in the ICT arena.

But Mills said that in recent years the Workgroup has not been holding the Government accountable enough, and has let fly on a personal blog.

He most recently accused the Workgroup of being “an independent industry body now bought, paid for and gagged by the current Queensland Government.”

Mills told iTnews that the Minister for Government Services and Information and Communication Technology Simon Finn had “bullied” the ICT Industry Workgroup into submission over the more controversial matters in Government ICT policy.

He alleged that representatives from the AIIA and ACS met with the chair of Software Queensland and threatened to remove the organisation from the Workgroup if Mills could not be silenced.

Mills on Friday resigned from both the ICT Workgroup and Software Queensland in protest.

“I respect Software Queensland way too much to put them in that position,” Mills said.

“There is something rotten in the State of Queensland and I am determined for it to be addressed. But my actions should not reflect badly on the members of Software Queensland.”

Allegations

Mills’ main beef is that the Workgroup’s only paid staff member is executive officer Paul Campbell.

He said the group was funded by the Queensland Government to the tune of a mere $150,000 a year, which was funnelled through the Australian Computer Society to pay Campbell’s wage.

Mills had asked for a breakdown of how the $150,000 was spent but his application was rejected.

Campbell told iTnews he did not dispute this arrangement but said he should not be seen as a Government employee but rather an industry representative.

“It’s a fine line, but an important one because of the value the industry and the Government places on the body’s independence," Campbell said.

While Campbell's salary is effectively paid by the Queensland Government, eight industry organisations provide the bulk of the in-kind resources required for the ICT Industry Workgroup to function, he said.

“I get the most experienced, most senior people in Queensland to address these ICT issues," he said.

Minister Finn is “100 percent” behind the group’s independence, Campbell said.

“There has never been any pressure applied at Ministerial level or Senior Bureaucrat level," he said. "We are frank and fearless and – most importantly – consistent in our approach.”

'Late' reports

Mills also alleged the ICT Industry Workgroup’s annual score card – which rates the Government on its ICT performance - was handed in late last year and was not commissioned this year due to pressure from the Minister to avoid scrutiny of the performance of his portfolio.

Campbell saw things very differently. The scorecard was delayed, he said, due to Queensland’s epic floods, which personally affected Campbell and had most Government ICT workers scrambling to restore services rather than fill out report cards.

Campbell said the report will be tabled for the calendar year rather than fiscal year as a result.

He noted that the scorecard is not a tool to attack Governments, he said, but a tool to provide them an “independent viewpoint on things they are working on.

“We are not backward in providing criticism, but it is measured. Sometimes people working very hard in IT in Government simply need an external point of reference.”

He said the funding arrangement with the Government did not impact the Workgroup's vigour.

“Several times we have gone to the Minister after a procurement review and said, we can see a huge problem – the potential for a project to become a train wreck,” Campbell said.

“And on both occasions, when we showed it was a high-risk contract, the Minister stopped the project that day.

“We are not a complaints bureau and we don’t show any political flavour,” he said. “So when we do speak, we are listened to.”

Social media policy

Campbell said any pressure applied on Mills was done so in the name of a new social media policy being introduced as part of a wider charter being prepared by the group.

A draft of the new charter, currently circulating among members of the Workgroup, “makes clear the expectations of the members”, Campbell told iTnews.

One of those was that matters concerning Queensland Government ICT only be aired by consensus.

“Bruce was actively maintaining a personal blog on his views,” he said. “An individual might have a point of view and I’ll defend their right to express it. But he never canvassed those views with the Workgroup.

"As members of the Workgroup, we were being drawn in on his views, and that was creating difficulties and tensions.”

Campbell said Mills needed to consider the subtleties of the group’s dealings with the Government and find more effective ways to get his point of view across.

Campbell did concede that one of the voices most concerned about the blog came from “responses within the Government.”

“But we were not singling him out,” he said.

“Since our inception in 2005, the ICT Industry Workgroup has matured and issues have become more complex. We have a responsibility to be fiercely apolitical, as we represent the interests of eight organisations.

"We all felt the charter was needed to clearly attribute responsibilities and expectations of members.”

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