19 September 1998
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Ministerial Council for the Information Economy's, preliminary statement of the government's policy approach - Towards an Australian Strategy for the Information Economy.(1)The ACS welcomes the recognition given to the role of education and lifelong learning in enabling Australians to participate in the Information Economy. In its 1997 submission to the West Enquiry(2) , the ACS recommended positive incentives to students to enrol in IT&T related courses and a funding and policy objective to enable the university system to support vocational preparation of IT&T professionals, learning for life programs and to encourage the development of teaching practice using IT&T.
While emphasising training and lifelong learning as vital to participation in the Information Economy, the statement only encourages Australians to participate by consuming via the Internet, rather than becoming innovators and merchants in the information economy.
The major contributors to global commerce have been Transnational corporations(3) who transfer funds and retain intellectual property internally. They operate across national boundaries to access new markets or improve efficiencies in production. The benefits of these operations usually flow to their home countries. In the Global Information Economy, these companies will now be able to access the Australian Consumer market without even needing to establish a local presence.
Policies such as, cost reduction driven broad scale outsourcing by Government, do not encourage local innovation or the development and commercialisation of local research. Broadscale information technology outsourcing favours large Transnational companies rather than encouraging local solution providers, to develop and provide new services.(4)
The authors of the statement, seem to have an aversion to the technology, such as the alternatives to cable, which will underlie the Information Economy. Opportunities such as Digital Radio Broadcasting(5) both terrestrial and satellite, create new opportunities especially in the sparsely populated Australian Market, where the distribution of cable is limited and the attempt to address this has been a costly, exercise for both Telstra and Optus.
In its submission to Government in 1994 (6) the ACS detailed the elements of policy for a 'national information infrastructure'. Government actions are vital, in relation to clarifying the public's requirements, surveying the terrain and ensuring orderliness in the process of construction of the NII, which forms the infrastructure for the information economy.
In its submission, to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in June, the ACS called for Commonwealth privacy legislation to be extended to the private sector to meet relevant international standards and obligations. "Any privacy scheme that does not have legislatively-backed complaints, investigation and enforcement mechanisms will have limited effectiveness. Australia requires privacy laws to prevent some sectors of Australian industry, particularly those involved in on-line trade, being severely disadvantaged in international commerce.(7)
Any Australian Strategy, needs to extend beyond business and economic objectives and encompass social and community issues. The effects of the Global Information Economy on Australian life and social goals needs non economic performance indicators. Programs with indicators such as access and content must ensure local involvement at the community as well as the national level so as not to exclude parts of Australian Society from the Information Economy.
The failure of national vision cannot be wholly attributed to NOIE. Governments from both sides of politics have failed to grasp the opportunity, presented to them by our nation's academics and technologists. Australia has been at the forefront of the development of the Internet. Few in government have had the breadth of vision to understand the possibilities for Australia, nor the courage to act.
In its submission to the Information Industries Task force (8) the ACS recommended that all Australian Governments, state and federal, establish IT portfolios at the Cabinet level. State governments have implemented this recommendation, with impressive results. The Federal Government has failed to act and the nation continues to suffer from a lack of coordinated policy for the most important industry of the next century.
The ACS recommends:
The Australian Computer Society is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. It was established in 1966. The Society has over 14,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.This submission has been prepared by: Marghanita da Cruz, MACS on behalf of the Economic Legal & Social Implications Committee of the Community Affairs Board of the Australian Computer Society, Inc.
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