Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Questions without Notice

Information and Communications Technology

2:18 pm

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan. Will the minister inform the Senate of the importance of information and communications technology skills to the Australian economy, and the growth in these skills and the support they receive from the Australian government? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Photo of Helen CoonanHelen Coonan (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator McGauran for a question which obviously goes to the essential role that ICT skills play in underpinning Australia’s economic prosperity and productivity gains. This government has an ongoing commitment to the ICT industry. We have taken positive steps to help it recover from the dotcom crash and, as a consequence, the demand for ICT skills has strengthened significantly in recent years.

Today there are over 23,000 ICT businesses in Australia, directly employing more than a quarter of a million people. In 2004-05, the ICT industry generated revenue of more than $54 billion, contributing nearly five per cent to Australia’s gross domestic product.

The best thing a government can do for any dynamic industry sector is to foster and maintain a strong economy and a flexible competitive environment in which to do business. And this is one area where the government has clearly differentiated itself from the opposition. This government’s responsible economic management has provided a firm base for the Australian ICT sector. Today more than 205,000 ICT professionals are employed in Australia, compared with only 113,000 in 1995 when Labor was last in office. In 2005 I established an ICT advisory group which has taken a lead role in determining Australia’s key ICT priorities. At the top of the list, not surprisingly, are education and skills. Since 2003, the government has created more than 5,400 new HECS places in ICT, maths and science, building the essential skills this sector needs to continue to prosper.

And, of course, industry leadership is critical to building the ICT skills base in the longer run. It is for this reason that I welcome the announcement made by Telstra yesterday to fund 15 Telstra media communications and technology scholarships at the newly established Australian branch of the world-recognised Carnegie Mellon University. These scholarships, worth $90,000 each, will enable students to complete a Master of Science in Information Technology at its Adelaide campus, equipping students with information technology, information systems and business management skills. This is a very important investment in ICT skills, which shows people who may be considering taking up an ICT career the high value placed on their skills by industry and the array of interesting jobs which will likely be open to them upon graduation.

I have been asked about alternative policies. I have to say it is a bit disappointing: I have looked in vain for any position taken by the Labor Party on building Australia’s ICT base, and I have found none. After years of pretending to support the ICT industry—wait for this, Mr President—at the last election Labor planned to abolish the Invest Australia initiative, which is selling Australia’s ICT industry to the world. Since then, the opposition has stood by, clueless—absolutely clueless—with no plans at all for Australia’s information technology future. By contrast, this government continues to stand up for the ICT industry, working hard and hand in hand with it to build a vibrant ICT sector and to increase the job opportunities available within it.