Information Technology Supplier Advocate job abolished

Malcolm Turnbull's liking for government procurement from SMEs looks forlorn

Parliament House Canberra by Flickr user OzMark17 used under CC Share and Share alike licence

Australia has abolished its Information Technology Supplier Advocate, a Canberra-based role designed to help small biz jump through the hoops of government contracting. The incumbent, Don Easter, finishes work next Monday.

The position of Information Technology Supplier Advocate was created in 2010 when, as Labor Senator Kate Lundy wrote at the time, the holder of the role was expected to “... make real progress solving the well known frustrations experienced by SME’s …” when selling to government. Small businesses have long complained that they can't get government buyers' ears and lack the resources to participate in government tenders. Advocate Don Easter, a former EDS executive, worked to to turn that around in the four-and-a-bit years since his April 2010 appointment.

Australia's current Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, last week expressed enthusiasm for such an approach, writing enthusiastically about UK targets for 25 per cent of government IT procurement to be made from among small and medium-sized business.

But The Reg has learned that the position of Information Technology Supplier Advocate has gone, along with the Opening up Opportunities through Australian Industry Participation programme that funded it.

It is not clear if the replacement Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme includes a direct replacement for the role of the Information Technology Supplier Advocate, because the details of the Programme have not yet been made public.

The only substantial detail about the Programme is this Discussion Paper (PDF) that does not mention assisting small businesses of any sort to obtain easier access to government clients. The Programme will offer cash to help small businesses hire consultants, and assistance to commercialise new products.

Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA), was unaware of the position's existence, but told The Reg he feels it is the kind of role he felt could be enhanced rather than abolished. Strong added that mooted plans to enhance the role of the Small Business Commissioner could see that officer take on some of the efforts previously conducted by the Information Technology Supplier Advocate.

The new Programme's handouts have also attracted criticism from the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-leaning think tank that is a broadly supportive of Australia's current government. In an op-ed published in Fairfax Media yesterday, the Institute's Chris Berg described the grants as “obscenities”, added his belief it is “incredible that even in a horror budget the federal government plans to give money away to successful companies” and observed that “Every minute entrepreneurs spend filling out a grant applications is a minute stolen from doing what makes entrepreneurism so valuable: developing new products, finding new markets, and adding value to the economy.”

Australia's Federal Government says more details about the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme will be released as it kicks into action. That happens next Tuesday, July 1st. ®

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