The Australian Information Industry Association has set out its policy recommendations to the Government, arguing Australia is punching below its weight and must act now to avoid falling further behind the world on key ICT readiness measures.
Speaking at the launch of the industry group’s 2013 election platform, AIIA Chairman Kee Wong said those who were unconvinced of the need for Australia to become a smarter economy need only look to the major economic fall of Argentina.
“It did not innovate in the agricultural strength that it had, it did not move to advances in technology that would power a new economy and did not invest in education and building highly skilled workers.
“There are only three things Argentina can be proud of today – the Tango, Eva Peron, and now the Pope, so we don’t want Australia to end up like Argentina,” Wong said.
“Australia cannot sit on its laurels in what nature has given us as a natural resource. We have to create our own future.”
The AIIA has made six major recommendations to the Federal Government, including:
- Mandating the use of national broadband infrastructure for government initiatives, and providing open access to government data by default.
- Amending the tax treatment of employee share option plans to allow realisation of benefits before tax liabilities are required.
- Targeted tax incentives to encourage more SMEs to build digital capability.
- Continuing the 457 Visa program, and investment in a national ICT skills development program to promote enrolments in science, technology, engineering and maths from school through to university.
- Raising tax incentives for companies conducting ICT research and development, and increased support for NICTA and the CSIRO for programs that bring together the research sector with industry.
- Funding the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect, monitor and report ICT metrics, including the government’s own use.
The AIIA said its platform was a vision for sustained national prosperity, and more about how companies and government applied technology than the technology itself.
Former AIIA chair John Grant said it is about getting recognition that technology could be used to drive competitiveness, productivity and innovation.
Grant said if Australian business and government leaders didn’t understand that, then the only way they could understand how to restructure competitively would be if there was a significant financial crash.
“We should be smarter than that,” Grant said.
AIIA deputy chairman and IBM chief Andrew Stevens said with a $12 billion shortfall in the Federal budget, Australia needed to confront serious questions about how it spent money, delivered services, and sourced revenue.
“Other governments around the world have faced similar fiscal challenges and have responded by using the opportunities of the digital era to reduce costs without reducing necessary services, and Australia needs to do the same,” Stevens said.
He cited World Economic Forum research that showed Australia ranked 18th, behind the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong in terms of its readiness for the digital economy.
“We must face the fact that we are punching below our weight in the digital arena, but also recognise that we have so much potential,” he said.
“While we’ve made good progress in implementing the app economy, I don’t think we’ve started to take away the old world, so the reality is we may well have increased the cost by running both models – the bricks and mortar model, and the direct mobility-powered model – in both business and government.”
AIIA chief executive officer Suzanne Campbell agreed: “Perhaps we just need the most cost-effective way of doing things.”