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Budget cash for online services trials

Australia funds MOBILE MUSEUM ROBOTS, data mining, e-health, OLPCs

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Australia will conduct a trial of government service delivery via video conference, after A$6.2m was allocated to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for a trial of “high definition video conferencing access to DHS specialist services, such as social workers and financial information officers, from a customer's home, a DHS customer service centre or from a third party organisation.” The trial is intended to “explore the potential of the new technology to provide services to all Australians, regardless of their geographical location.

The DHS provides a plethora of social and health services, and also administers most government payments to individuals and families. The video conferencing trial may be small beer compared to the $206m over four years the budget allocates to improve the Department’s call centres. But the budget also includes “$22.2m over three years from 2012 13 to provide new and innovative in home telehealth services to older Australians, people living with cancer and those requiring palliative care.” The budget will also “… better target incentives and payments to encourage early adoption of telehealth initiatives”, a move expected to save $183.9m over five years.

That starts to look a little like a government with a deep interest in online service delivery.

And at least one of those services looks awesome: a $2.4m promise to “provide online remote access to national cultural institutions” such as museums plans a service so that e-visitors “ … will be able to undertake virtual tours of these institutions via mobile robots. Users will be able to engage and interact with local visitors and tour guides and will be provided with a range of additional on screen information to enhance their experience.”

Other items announced in the budget include:

  • $A11m for 50,000 new computers under the One Laptop Per Child program and extend the tax deductibility of OLPCs bought under the buy one, gift one program.
  • $43m to help the Australian Securities and Investments Commission build better data mining tools, to improve its market surveillance abilities
  • $158m to the Special Broadcasting service, partly aimed at helping it to “build or upgrade its technology capabilities.” SBS will also introduce a free-to-air national Indigenous television channel in the second half of 2012, broadcast by satellite.
  • $233m for e-health, mostly to operate the PCEHR system for the next couple of years
  • $20m “to improve public understanding, address misconceptions and provide updated information about the National Broadband Network (NBN).” The spend will be “focused on regional and remote areas where access to the NBN will be provided through fixed wireless and satellite services.” We think that means "ads to talk up the NBN in the bush".
  • $240.3m “over four years from 2012 13 to build and operate the information technology system required to collect and analyse data to monitor client outcomes and measure the performance of the new arrangements” under the new National Disability Insurance Scheme.
  • A new My Aged Care website.
  • $54m over four years to improve participation in the study of mathematics and science, plus $10.9m over four years to support the development of innovative approaches to delivering university mathematics and science courses with a view to improving the pipeline of mathematics and science teachers.
  • $19.9m to develop an education portal on the ABC website that will make digital education resources available to students both in and out of the classroom.

Lastly, we know this has nothing to do with IT, but would-be visitors to El Reg’s antipodean outpost who have put off travel to these shores for fear of Australia’s vast population of poisonous beasts may find it reassuring to know that the budget also includes “$2.7m over four years to … help meet the increased costs of manufacturing antivenom products in Australia. This funding delivers on the Government's commitment to maintain national capacity for antivenom production.”

To our international readers: enjoy your antivenom-free austerity. ®

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