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Australia's 2013/2014 budget full of sci/tech goodies

Cash for gamers, ERP reviews and nuclear waste handling

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Australia's budget for 2013/2014 contains plenty of interest to the technology community.

One of the Budget's centrepieces is $AUD9.8 billion of funds, over six years, with the aim of ensuring “Australia to be placed in the top five countries internationally in reading, mathematics and science by 2025”. That investment in maths and science should please those who argue more kiddies coding are needed to boost the economy.

Another is the change to the Research and Development (R&D) refundable tax offset, now able to be claimed each quarter instead of at the end of the financial year.

Those forward-looking plans are offset by the reduction in budget for National ICT Australia, which we'll address in its own story.

One of the most eye-catching items is a handout to Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), which scores $4m to “expand its call centre operations at Kingston in Tasmania”. 750 jobs will be the result, which is nice. But it is also worth noting that in our reading of all outgoings in the Budget there are only one or two other line items allocated directly to a private company. Well done VHA!

If you think that's blatant vote-buying, how about the $220,000 to run fibre to the Acacia Park Industrial in Armidale, New South Wales. Lots of NBN hoopla has focussed on Armidale, which is supposed to be an example of just how wonderful life is once the NBN arrives. The industrial park seems to have missed out on that pixie dust. Local MP Tony Windsor has told local press the cash came after his intervention. That whole balance of power thing can be handy, can't it?

ERP gets a couple of budget mentions, with $2.8m over two years “to undertake a detailed study of the costs and benefits of rationalising the number and type of Enterprise Resource Planning systems used in the Australian Public Service” that could be causing some re-budgeting in vendor-land. There's also “$2.2m over two years for the development of a second pass business case for an Enterprise Resourcing Planning (ERP) system to improve the management of information across AusAID,” which will make vendors happy if the business case suggests ERP is a good thing.

We've also spotted $19.3m over five years to increase the size of the National Telepresence System, which should make Cisco happy and airlines grumpy. There's also $30.0m over two years “to improve the ability of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to meet customer demand for call centre services. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission also gets $7.8m to spend on call centres, largely because it will soon need to operate the online National Business Names registration system.

Small IT businesses may take heart from the $29.4m over five years “to establish the Enterprise Solutions Program to help innovative small to medium enterprises overcome barriers and become more competitive in bidding for government services and tenders.” Oh goodie, government work, we hear the channel cry!

Those same business may also want to take note of the $3.4m allocated “to enable the Fair Work Ombudsman to monitor and enforce employer compliance with 457 visa conditions.”

Gamers will be happy that $20m has been found $20.0 million “to establish and administer an Australian Interactive Games Fund to help support the development of the interactive video gaming industry in Australia.” The artistically-inclined may also welcome $30m for the ABC to continue development of its online activities and $10.0m heading to Screen Australia “to support the Australian screen production industry across a range of digital platforms, including television.”

A few interesting tech projects also popped up in the budget, namely:

  • $0.3m to begin work on replacing “Cuba”, an application used by the Child Support agency
  • $7.9m over four years to build a new data centre at the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
  • $8.4m to trial automated border processing technology and procedures for departures from Australian airports
  • An extra $1.5m for CrimTrac “to upgrade the National Police Reference System” so the feds can link to State police databases
  • The Department of Human Services (DHS) will develop a first pass business case to identify options for the upgrade or replacement of the Income Security Integrated System (ISIS), to be completed in 2015.
  • $2.1m to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop a second pass business case for a major statistical infrastructure and business process reengineering project.
  • $1.3m over four years to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate wholesale and retail mobile roaming charges between Australia and New Zealand.

The budget also outlines some savings, including:

  • $10m redirected from digital TV switchover promotion to the SBS
  • $4.5m saving deciding not to implement a national internet filter
  • $68.4m from better procurement practices, including
  • $62.4m over five years by the Department of Human Services, in part derived from “replacing the use of cheques with Electronic Funds Transfers to general practitioners and specialists when making pay‑doctor‑via‑claimant payments;

As we trawled through the budget papers we also found a few items that, while not strictly technology-related, may well interest Reg readers. Those initiatives include

  • Up to $2.5m as a contribution towards a feasibility study to examine both the electricity generation capacity required to drive future economic development in North Queensland and the potential to develop land for sugarcane production, milling, ethanol and cogeneration infrastructure in the Pentland region.
  • $10.5m for the ACMA to “upgrade and relocate high frequency direction finding (HFDF) and very high frequency/ultra high frequency (VHF/UHF) monitoring facilities”, so it can spot folks abusing Australia's airwaves
  • $0.5m in 2012‑13 for the development of a detailed project plan for the relocation and establishment of a jointly‑operated United States (US) C‑band space surveillance radar at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia.
  • $0.4m in 2013‑14 to investigate and develop an appropriate cost recovery model for the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, which regulates genetic technology in Australia
  • $9.9m over five years to improve the clinical trials environment in Australia
  • $28.7m over four years to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for the management of nuclear liabilities
  • $35.7m over four years to secure a suitable volunteer site and undertake initial scoping and design work required to address Australia's future radioactive waste management requirements
  • $135.3m over five years for the Australian Research Council's Future Fellowships scheme
  • $0.9m over three years from 2012‑13 to support Diamond Energy, a small‑scale clean energy and electricity retailer, to transition to a new business model following the closure of the New South Wales Government's Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme
  • $21.6m to attract production of the feature film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo to Australia.
  • $6.8m over four years to design, develop and implement a consumer energy data system “to assist energy consumers to better manage their energy usage and costs, including by comparing different retail supply offers.”
  • $7.9m over four years from 2012‑13 to enable high priority life extension works to be undertaken on the Aurora Australis, the multi‑purpose icebreaking vessel used to support the Australian Antarctic Program.

That's a lot of technology and scientific activity, but we've doubtless missed something.

If one of your pet projects, or one of your employer's, has been impacted by the Budget, do let us know. ®

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