Vic tech minister shoots down hopes of IT spending spree

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Vic tech minister shoots down hopes of IT spending spree
Technology minister Gordon Rich-Phillips.

Don’t expect any pre-election sweeteners, Rich-Phillips warns.

Victorian technology minister and assistant treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips has told the techology industry not to expect a cash-splash in the state's May budget, preferring to describe budget deliberations as “business as usual”.

Speaking to the AIIA’s annual ministerial forum in Melbourne yesterday, Rich-Phillips suggested budget considerations around technology would be framed by savings rather than big ticket items that might curry favour ahead of the November election.

The minister said IT wasn’t likely to dominate policy ahead of the polls.

“The things that a government might look at in an election year tend not to be on the side of what we do with technology platforms and investment into government," he said.

“So in 2014 it will be largely a business as usual decision making process that will then be implemented over the course of the 2014-15 financial year."

The “reality of a constrained budget environment” was one of two key drivers he listed as driving the refresh of the state’s IT strategy, which is due for completion by April.

“Here in Victoria we are spending around $1.5 billion a year on ICT infrastructure and services. That is a very large expenditure for a government spending $50 billion a year on all government activity, and it is an expenditure that we need to ensure we are getting best value of money for,” he said.

However, the government may find it has little choice but to loosen the purse strings in several instances where legacy systems are becoming too risky to bear.

Last year’s budget pledged $10.4 million as a first instalment against the Victoria Police’s IT reform program, which includes a second attempt at replacing its 21 year-old green-screen core crimes database LEAP.

A full upgrade is likely to cost tens - if not hundreds - of millions of dollars more than the 2013 outlay.

The state government is also due to release its system-wide eHealth strategy in the first half of this year, which will attempt to get Victoria back up to speed with its peers after dumping its on-again off-again HealthSMART program.

Seeking “fair share” of blackspot funding

Rich-Phillips reiterated his pledge to lobby the federal government for Victoria’s “fair share” of a $100 million pool reserved for remediating mobile coverage blackspots across the country.

“That is one that we are very keen to work with [Communications Minister] Malcolm Turnbull and his team on,” he said, “to make sure that it targets those areas with the greatest need.”

He complained that the dominance of the NBN over the past five years had obscured the plight of rural Victoria and its telephony woes.

“That was basically crowding out any discussion of any other telecommunications issues," he said.

“There are substantial mobile telephone blackspots that have not been addressed for a long time. We see this increasingly with emergency situations, such as bushfires, in some of our regional communities.”

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