Abbott’s ICT Neglect

Yesterday the Government announced its long-awaited industry agenda, which identifies five sectors that will drive innovation including: food and agribusiness, mining, resources, medical technology and advanced manufacturing.

All can be argued as appropriate sectors to drive Australia’s economy into the future.  However, it is concerning that the Government has made a particularly glaring omission: Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

As the evidence consistently shows, the ICT sector is one of the biggest drivers of growth and innovation in an economy.  It is also considered to be a “gateway” growth sector:  that is, not only a growth sector in its own right, but one which facilitates other (often entirely unrelated) sectors to innovate and expand.

It therefore does not surprise me that an unnamed “IT executive” has told the AFR’s Phil Coorey today how crazy it is to leave out the ICT industry as one of these growth sectors in a Federal industry agenda.

As Deloitte’s analysis of Australia’s sectoral growth options found earlier this year:

“ICT will be a gateway for our growth sectors, enabling everything from water-saving sensor systems and disease-resistant crops on our farms, to robots and automated systems in mining, to the likes of ICT-enabled lower-cost advice models in wealth management.”

Yesterday’s announcement also confirms a concerning pattern of behaviour from this Government: constantly undermining itself with contradictory actions, talking a big game but failing to back up its rhetoric with substance.

Take, for example, its fresh announcement to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in primary as well as secondary schools.  Seems like a good idea, but the announcement came only a few days after the Government’s own curriculum review recommended digital technology subjects only be offered to students in Year Nine and above.

That’s not to mention this Government’s rotten Budget which cut funding to science, research and innovation – only to release a half-baked science, research and innovation plan six months later.

And it’s no wonder that I was approached by concerned staff on a recent visit to a university, anxious about future takeup in science and engineering courses as a result of the new higher education changes, especially at a time when so much focus has been placed on encouraging women to pursue science-related careers.  Again, saying one thing about science and innovation and doing another.

Considering the recent sandpit diplomacy around the G20 attendance list, it would be a welcome change if our Prime Minister could focus on the brain rather than the brawn. He could start by embracing ICT and scrapping his plans to make it harder to get into university.