Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATION, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION - 25/05/2000 - NATIONAL OFFICE FOR THE INFORMATION ECONOMY - TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Senator LUNDY —If we can move to the telecommunications section, I have some questions about regional policy and Networking the Nation. When Telstra appeared before the estimates committee yesterday we heard evidence about the situation they are in with respect to upgrades of certain exchanges around the country. The evidence suggested that Telstra had made a commercial decision not to proceed with a further upgrade of a group of rural and regional exchanges on the basis that it was not cost effective. I am awaiting details of which exchanges have been thus identified and have sought clarification on what that means in terms of service levels.

My understanding to date is that some of the enhanced services like call waiting, some message services, call forward and things like that would not be available to customers through those exchanges. I also asked Telstra to clarify the status of those services as far as the standard communications service definition was concerned. I want to ask my questions on the basis that they are not in fact breaching any standing telecommunications service, that it is just an enhanced service that those people will not be able to use. That is by way of a premise to my question, which is: given that the often stated policy objective of the coalition government is to improve regional services in telecommunications, what are you going to do about this situation? Minister, this may be one for you because it is a bit of a policy question.

Senator Herron —All right.

Senator LUNDY —Did you just hear my lengthy preamble to this question, by any chance?

Senator Herron —No.

Senator LUNDY —That is a shame.

Senator Herron —I am letting free flow of discourse go, on the presumption that I am walking out at 9 o'clock.

Senator LUNDY —If you became aware that there was some inequity in the communications services being offered to people in rural and regional Australia as a result of a commercial decision by Telstra, what would the government do about that? Would that be something to be specifically addressed in terms of your communications policy?

Senator Herron —I am making a general assumption, but if I was a shareholder in a company and had a minority interest, but it was a significant interest, yes, I would communicate with the board. Ms Holthuyzen can answer it.

Ms Holthuyzen —The government's policy position is essentially threefold in this area. One is in terms of delivering better services to not just rural Australians but all Australians, and there has been a whole range over a number of years, putting in place a competitive environment to create greater competition and better service and lower prices. There is the underpinning in that regulatory framework in relation to the universal service obligation and having universal requirements for safety nets in terms of that obligation, the digital data service, the special data service. Finally, the third element is the targeted funding provided out of the proceeds of the sale of Telstra for a range of social bonus funding that is currently being put in place, and further programs to come. There is a recognition that there is a range of issues there, and the government has a targeted program to try and address those concerns.

In relation to Telstra in particular, it is a commercial operation and the government is not in a position to tell it how to run its business. So, subject to the safety and universal service provisions in the law which they obviously must comply with, they make commercial decisions in relation to other matters.

Senator LUNDY —That is a pretty fair reflection. The issue here is: because the government has made funds available to fund specific projects, as you say, allegedly to enhance connectivity and all the rest of it, yet within the organisation from which they drew the funds to fund these programs, there are still some inequities.

Ms Holthuyzen —There are always better services we would like in different places. You would also be aware from Telstra's testimony yesterday that they have made some announcements about putting in place a regional and rural unit which is going to be more specifically targeted and will look more specifically at particular concerns in regional and rural Australia. They have made some initial announcements about that and I think some further announcements about more details are expected in the next few weeks. I am not quite sure of the dates but I know they have made some initial announcements about it and some further details are expected to be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the competitive tendering of the USO, how is the structure of that going to work in terms of regional opportunities for potential competitors?

Ms Holthuyzen —Are you talking about the pilot contestability process for the universal service arrangements?

Senator LUNDY —I guess I am.

Ms Holthuyzen —It is not directly a tendering process. It is two pilot areas with subsidies attached to individual customers. Once you have been a carrier who can come in and offer universal service, you go in and compete with other carriers in relation to the customers in those areas. The idea there is obviously to create some competition in those areas as well.

Senator LUNDY —Is the Bendigo region one of the pilot areas?

Ms Holthuyzen —The pilot areas have not been chosen yet. A discussion paper was put out by the department a week or so ago seeking some comments on the two pilot areas to be chosen. Once comments are back on that paper, the government will make some decisions about where the two pilot areas are.

Senator LUNDY —Do people get to bid on the pilot areas?

Ms Holthuyzen —No, it is not a bidding process. You pass some criteria so that you are eligible to become a USO carrier in that area and then you must offer services to all the consumers in that area. The customers choose whichever carrier they want to be with and the subsidies are paid to the carrier on the basis of what universal service customers they get.

Senator LUNDY —In the situation I have described with these exchanges, where Telstra, for what they say are commercial reasons, is not upgrading them, what happens in that competitive tendering scenario where there are exchanges within that region that are not up to scratch? They actually do meet the standard but they are not at that enhanced level. I am searching for the public policy mechanism that can make someone spend the money.

Ms Holthuyzen —Mr Cheah might have something further to add. One of the initial reasons is that the idea is that someone can come in and provide the basic service, but because you have to actually attract the customer to come to you, you might be prepared to offer a higher level service. That is part of the mechanism to try to provide some incentives for carriers.

Senator LUNDY —I know what you mean. Did you want to add something?

Mr Cheah —Ms Holthuyzen described it very well. One of the ways in which the contestability approach would work would be that, hopefully, the new carriers will come in; they will have different styles of offerings from the Telstra offering and maybe will offer different service characteristics. The customers will basically be able to get some choice. There will be a guaranteed minimum standard below which things cannot fall. People will also have the option of staying with Telstra if that is what they want to do, but we would be working, I think, on the presumption that other carriers will be introducing new products and services and if those products and services are not attractive, are not better than the Telstra product, people are unlikely to shift. So that will in itself act as a way of hopefully improving services.

The other point to make is that once you get into the realm of enhanced services it is very unclear what an enhanced service might be. There are all sorts of ways in which services might be enhanced, for example, adding a mobility feature or adding some higher data speeds or doing things in a whole range of different ways, and it would not be clear as to exactly how you would go about enhancing things. I think some of the issues you were talking about were things like call waiting and some of those sorts of intelligent network features and functionality, but there might be other features and functionality and forms of other enhancements which a range of different carriers might be providing.

Senator LUNDY —Is the contestability mandate, the ability to interconnect through existing infrastructure—

Mr Cheah —In what sense, Senator?

Senator LUNDY —If the contestability pilot were to be applied to a given region I presume that if consumers opted to go with someone other than Telstra, the incumbent, part of the process would be that the Telstra infrastructure would be made available for the use of that competing carrier working on interconnection principles?

Mr Cheah —The normal access in interconnection rules under part 11C of the Trade Practices Act would apply, yes. That would be the level of presumption.

Senator LUNDY —So if the infrastructure at the rural or regional exchange is not up to scratch then no-one is going to be able to provide a competing enhanced style service, are they?

Mr Cheah —No, not necessarily. For example, if another new carrier comes in and offers us a satellite based service, they could be using infrastructure which is completely independent of the local Telstra—

Senator LUNDY —Hang on. Let us be a little realistic here. We are talking about areas where a satellite service may be offered, but more likely people will use in the first instance that normal infrastructure.

Mr Cheah —Not necessarily. The department issued a discussion paper on the tendering issue back in March last year and a lot of the responses that came in from carriers were more or less indicating that there is a range of different technologies—and certainly in discussions with carriers—which could be used. Certainly the ACA's report on USO issues, in terms of USO costings, was based on the idea that you would not necessarily—

Senator LUNDY —How many satellite competitors are currently in the marketplace?

Mr Cheah —In fact, in relation to Internet services, there are at least—

Senator LUNDY —No, in relation to telephony. I am talking about telephony services here.

Mr Cheah —I do not think there are any really who are offering commercial services—

Senator LUNDY —That is right.

Mr Cheah —in terms of basic telephony. Certainly in relation to mobile telephony there are quite a few.

Senator LUNDY —But do you see my point? What I am worried about—and I will be in a much better position to ask these questions more accurately when I get the information from Telstra, so bear with me—is that these exchanges, despite interconnection, contestability, the presence of satellite services for data, whilst ever those exchanges are not upgraded and they are left to sit there with no commercial viability to be upgraded, there will be a fundamental disadvantage for those people who happen to be connected to those exchanges. I am not saying that all of those other issues will create potential improvements for many people, but I am just asking the question specifically in relation to these exchanges and, in doing so, I am drawing it to your attention but also looking for what public policy solutions exist for those consumers.

Senator Herron —Mr Chairman, I hesitate to interrupt this interesting discourse but we are here to answer questions. I would remind Senator Lundy that we are here to answer questions.

Senator LUNDY —Minister, what do you think about it? What do you think about the plight of the people connected to these sorts of—

Senator Herron —What I think about it is irrelevant. We are here to answer questions. The officers are here—

Senator LUNDY —What do you think? I am asking you.

Senator Herron —out of their hours, as we all are, and, interesting though it might be, we are here to answer questions in relation to the budget, and I would draw your attention to it, Mr Chairman.

CHAIR —I think the minister is making quite a cogent point. We are here to discuss the budget estimates and finance.

Senator LUNDY —I find it a little frustrating that every time you cannot answer a question, you start talking about the budget.

Senator Herron —That is what this process is about. I have been around for 10 years.

Senator LUNDY —What do you think about this, Minister?

Senator Herron —Whatever I think is irrelevant and I am not answering that question. I am here to answer questions about the budget and that is what I am going to stick to. I am interested in having a debate about anything; I am interested in having a debate about the State of Origin match last night, but it is irrelevant to the Senate estimates.

Senator LUNDY —How much money has been spent on Networking the Nation so far?

Dr Williamson —The amount allocated to projects from the last round that was announced was $132 million. There has been another round considered by the board recently which will be announced in the next little while.

Senator LUNDY —That $132 million does not cover all the rounds that have occurred with respect to the RTIF, does it?

Dr Williamson —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Has there only been $132 million spent?

Dr Williamson —That was until, I think, November or December last year, when that was announced, which was roughly the halfway point of the $250 million program in terms of the five years, so it is roughly tracking at a pro rata rate.

Senator LUNDY —So how much money will be allocated in the next round for this next allocation?

Dr Williamson —The minister will announce that in the next little while.

Senator LUNDY —That $132 million was over the first two years?

Dr Williamson —Two and a half years.

Senator LUNDY —How many rounds were there? There were two, weren't there?

Dr Williamson —I think we are up to the seventh round or so. There were three rounds a year for the first little while and then it went to two.

Senator LUNDY —It has got $268 million yet to spend.

Dr Williamson —$118 million. It is just over half way.

Senator LUNDY —Is it likely that that money will be expended prior to the five years or is it locked into a five-year program?

Dr Williamson —It can all be allocated before the end of the five years. The expenditure could expand beyond the five years. The projects range from one-year to three-year projects, so projects which are allocated money in the last year will have a tail that goes beyond the five years.

Senator LUNDY —What other money is available to the Networking the Nation program?

Dr Williamson —There are four new elements that are funded from the Telstra 2 sale—Building Additional Rural Networks, BARN, and that is $70 million.

Senator Herron —Mr Chairman, do we allow mobile phones at Senate hearings? If so, I will bring mine in and get my secretary to ring me every five minutes.

CHAIR —I think we should have a general ban on mobiles.

Senator Herron —My understanding is that mobile phones are turned off at Senate hearings.

CHAIR —I agree.

Senator Herron —I think that should be conveyed to Senator Lundy. If she wishes to have her telephone turned on, everybody in the room can have their telephones turned on.

CHAIR —It really ought to be one of the rules for estimates, in fact.

Senator Herron —Senator Lundy, I have asked for a ruling from the chairman about the use of mobile telephones. If mobile telephones are allowed, it will be available to all my officers and myself and I will make sure that I am rung every five minutes to communicate problems that I am having outside. So I am asking the chairman for a ruling.

CHAIR —I think mobiles should be turned off. Mine is turned off.

Senator Herron —Estimates are committees of the Senate, as I understand. Mobile telephone are not permitted in the Senate.

CHAIR —They are—this is the Senate, in effect.

Senator Herron —But if it is Senator Lundy's wish to have mobile telephones, I am happy to have them and I will go and get mine. Could we move on?

CHAIR —Senator Lundy requests an adjournment for five minutes.

Senator Herron —Sure.

Proceedings suspended from 8.15 p.m. to 8.20 p.m.

Dr Williamson —There is a local government fund of $45 million and an Internet access fund of $36 million and remote and isolated communities fund of $20 million.

Senator LUNDY —Are they characterised as Networking the Nation?

Dr Williamson —They are all subject to the same application and decision by the Networking the Nation process as the general fund. There are publicly available fact sheets that give each a particular focus.

Senator LUNDY —What is the time frame for the expenditure of that grouping?

Dr Williamson —Two of them, Building Additional Rural Networks and the local government fund, run over five years starting from this current financial year. The other two are over three years starting from this financial year.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the BARN one, does that have an Internet focus or is it a general regional network focus?

Dr Williamson —It is a general regional network. It is more focused on infrastructure than on the Internet access fund.

Senator LUNDY —With the Networking the Nation guidelines, I was highlighting the other day the provision that seems to fend applications away from providing competing infrastructure in a given community. Is that the case with BARN as well?

Dr Williamson —The same general principles will apply. But I think the signals from the government in announcing BARN probably tend to move it a little more in terms of providing infrastructure that is innovative and attracts new players into regional markets. They were explicitly two of the main differentiators from the general NTN fund.

Senator LUNDY —You are familiar with my concerns about the Networking the Nation process. How do you make assessments of the viability of the proposals in the BARN fund?

Dr Williamson —In the same way, essentially, as assessments are made under the general fund in that it is all based on applications and dependent on the applicant to demonstrate viability or ongoing sustainability and not necessarily commercial viability. The board will judge each project against the general NTN guidelines and the specific or additional criteria in the fact sheets relating to each of these funds. Viability is something that is generally up to the applicant to demonstrate as a general principle.

Senator LUNDY —We heard with the Networking the Nation original fund that consultants are engaged to make assessments about the relative impact to get an independent view to help the board make the decisions. Do you have that capacity for BARN as well for independent opinions to be sought?

Dr Williamson —We have that capacity. BARN will operate in the same way as the general fund. Consultants are not necessarily a part of the process, but applicants are of course free to engage consultants to help them develop an application. We do have a technical and a financial consultant engaged for very complicated proposals, so the secretariat in the department can refer the complicated proposals to those independent people.

Senator LUNDY —In the board's assessment, are you able to tap into the various policy areas within the department to seek advice?

Dr Williamson —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —You do that?

Dr Williamson —We do where that is appropriate. It is not the general pattern with the average application, but certainly where there are applications which will impinge on other things going on in the department we are quite free to consult with all the policy areas and other program areas.

Senator LUNDY —Given this next tranche of grants programs, have you had an increase in your resources in managing the whole Networking the Nation?

Dr Williamson —Yes, there was an increase in resources which would have been in this current year's budget, matching when those funds were announced.

Senator LUNDY —Could you take on notice to provide details of those resources, including the comparison with how it was and then the increase, and also a summary of the anticipated expenditure of those funds over the five-year period, such as if you are planning two rounds every year and how much money? I appreciate it might vary somewhat, but what are you planning to release over what period of time?

Dr Williamson —We can do that. As you say, the precise pattern of allocation of funds will be dependent on applications.

Senator LUNDY —Do you do anything with respect to soliciting applications, or you promote and advertise and then wait for them?

Dr Williamson —We do not solicit very actively. More often, if there is an involvement from the secretariat, it will be a community somewhere which has an idea, and perhaps a vague idea, of where it might like to go. We certainly then give them all the assistance that we can to crystallise ideas and get them into a form which fits with the program. In that sense, there is a fair bit of input from the secretariat, but we do not necessarily solicit applications from scratch.

Senator LUNDY —If you receive an application that is not up to scratch, is it part of your role to assist the applicant to get the details right and make sure that it conforms?

Dr Williamson —That is part of that assistance I was explaining, either within a funding round or sometimes the board would look at an application and say, `Come back next round and here are some ideas as to what you might look at to enhance the application.'

Senator LUNDY —If someone came to you with a really good idea but needed that support in completing all the requirements, you are able and resourced to provide that assistance?

Dr Williamson —We can give that assistance. And the board is able to give relatively small grants to applicants who have a good idea but it is not developed enough, and that lets them engage a consultant, for instance, to help them develop the idea.

Senator LUNDY —Has the membership of the Networking the Nation board changed at all?

Dr Williamson —No.

Senator LUNDY —What process do you have for notification of interests of board members?

Dr Williamson —Financial interests?

Senator LUNDY —Yes.

Dr Williamson —When the board members were appointed they were required to signify they did not have a conflict of interest, which is the standard declaration—

Senator LUNDY —So it is not just a question of declaring any conflicts and then stepping outside the room; they are actually not allowed to have any conflicts?

Dr Williamson —Both apply. They would have declared when they were appointed that they did not have any broad conflicts that would prevent them performing the duties of a board member. But from time to time there obviously are applications that come from regions where the board members have associations and they do declare that interest, on an application-by-application basis.

Senator LUNDY —So they would exclude themselves for consideration of that application. Has that ever happened?

Dr Williamson —Yes, it does. Because we get applications which are quite geographically spread, it would be impossible to find someone to be on a board who would not have some association or come from the same region or a similar sort of situation.

Senator LUNDY —Certainly, there is a general interest but has it happened with respect to people having financial interests?

Dr Williamson —No, not that I am aware of. It would be more that they are resident in an area where the application has come from and therefore may have an interest because they are part of a community.

Senator LUNDY —That is different from having a direct financial interest in the company or companies associated with it.

Dr Williamson —I have not been with the program from the very beginning but I am not aware of any examples where there have been financial interests that have prevented a board member looking at applications.

Senator LUNDY —How often does the board meet?

Dr Williamson —As I mentioned before, the program started off with three rounds a year and has subsequently gone to two rounds a year. The board normally meets with that frequency. Through the period they have also had various ad hoc meetings for various reasons.

Senator LUNDY —I am happy to move now to Office of Government Online. Just to be consistent, I was wondering if you could explain any structural changes that have affected the Office of Government Online, either in relation to this current budget or recently, that are different from before.

Ms Roper —There have not been any substantial structural changes in the Office of Government Online, although you would appreciate that we had a number of staff for the Y2K program. What has happened with that group of staff is that essentially they have now gone on to the new strategic priorities we have got in the government online area. You would probably be aware that we have recently issued a government online strategy. There has been a reallocation of resources within the office from one task to another, with some going out into the department and others going in. Essentially, the resources remain the same.

Senator LUNDY —What was the resource allocation for the government online strategy?

Ms Roper —Do you mean internal allocation?

Senator LUNDY —Was there any special budget allocation or funding?

Ms Roper —No, there was not. It is a one-line allocation for the office.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the Internet presence of Commonwealth departments and agencies, what role does the Office of Government Online have in coordinating policies in relation to that presence?

Ms Roper —There are a range of different policies. You could probably say that we coordinate, although other agencies have got responsibility. The Privacy Commissioner has got responsibility for the privacy guidelines; similarly for disability guidelines. A range of other offices are involved. What we tend to do is work with those offices to ensure that there is, particularly under the new government online strategy, a consistent approach by agencies in terms of what they put on their web sites. In fact, they are required to now have consistent ways of putting information onto their web sites.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the government online strategy, does that cover the search engine principles and methodologies that apply across the Commonwealth government web sites?

Ms Roper —They are certainly referenced to the search engine that is maintained by AusInfo, which is in the Department of Finance and Administration, which is responsible for fed.gov.au. So the principal web site for the Commonwealth is administered by the Department of Finance and Administration.

Senator LUNDY —Why is that?

Ms Roper —It is a matter of history.

Senator LUNDY —Because OGIT was there?

Ms Roper —In part, but also AusInfo has a legitimate role in terms of being the purveyor of Commonwealth information.

Senator LUNDY —Does AusInfo reside within DOFA?

Ms Roper —Yes, that is right.

Senator LUNDY —Whereabouts?

Ms Roper —Within which division?

Senator LUNDY —Yes, that is what I mean.

Ms Roper —I am not sure. I know the person who heads the division but I do not know what the division is called.

Senator LUNDY —Right. In terms of the management of that site, if you have the government online strategy, wouldn't it make sense for them to be within OGO?

Ms Roper —In fact, we work very closely together. Possibly, you could mount the same argument for the whole range of agencies that we deal with. I do not think that might be seen very favourably by all those agencies. We are a small office with a coordinating role and the AusInfo role sits quite comfortably within the DOFA portfolio.

Senator LUNDY —Do you have any say in the search engine policies with respect to the management of the fed.gov.au site?

Ms Roper —We consult very much with AusInfo about that.

Senator LUNDY —One of the issues I am concerned about—and I do not know if you will be able to help me—is the search engine principles with respect to the ministerial web sites that are maintained within the auspice of departmental web sites. Is that something that you have a role to play in with determining the principles?

Ms Roper —Senator, you raised this issue last time and I am aware that it is a concern of yours. There is some discussion going on at the moment between the Public Service and Merit Protection Commission, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, AusInfo and ourselves on the placement of material on departmental and ministerial web sites, but there has been no formal decision coming out of that group meeting yet.

Senator LUNDY —Are they yet to meet?

Ms Roper —No. The word `meetings' probably perhaps gives it too formal a connotation. There have been discussions with that group of people with the intention of producing guidelines for the placement of material on departmental and ministerial web sites.

Senator LUNDY —The parliamentary departments made a determination as far as members and senators went. They determined that partisan material, under their definition, would not be allowed to reside on the service that was managed by the department. At this point in time we have a conflict in terms of approach and management with respect to the capability for that fed.gov.au site to embrace through its search engine capabilities the ministerial sites but not shadow ministerial sites and not views representative of all of the parliament.

Ms Roper —The fed.gov.au site certainly searches under all .gov.au names on that domain name. In respect of the differential treatment, the government is in the situation where ministers have their own web sites. People like yourself have your own web site as well and that can be accessed relatively easily.

Senator LUNDY —Do any ministers maintain web sites outside the fed.gov.au site that you know?

Ms Roper —I am not sure.

Senator LUNDY —Could you find that out?

Ms Roper —Yes. I can take that on notice.

Senator LUNDY —And also what ministers maintain a site within the .gov.au.area.

Ms Roper —Most departments maintain a ministerial home page that is hosted within the departmental web site.

Senator LUNDY —Yes. I would be interested in any distinction that this meeting of the Public Service Merit Protection Commission, PM and C and AusInfo come up with about what constitutes a political web site and what constitutes a ministerial web site in relation to the portfolio handled by that member of the executive. Is that something under consideration?

Ms Roper —There is some consideration being given by that group about the placement of material on both departmental and ministerial web sites.

Senator LUNDY —Could you also provide this committee with the outcome of those consultations, if any statement is made or guidelines are issued, so that information can be distributed to members?

Ms Roper —Yes, Senator. At the moment there is no sense of timing about when they will come out, but once they come out they would certainly be in the form of guidelines and I would be happy to provide them.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the maintenance of those ministerial web sites, could you also include in that information that you provide who resources the ongoing maintenance of the web site and whether it is within the department? I would also be interested to know whether they are maintained within the ministerial office.

Ms Roper —Just let me clarify the question: so you really want to know whether the minister's web site that is hosted quite often in the department's web site is paid for by the department or by the minister's office—is that your question?

Senator LUNDY —Yes.

Ms Roper —Okay, I will take that on notice.

Senator LUNDY —Thank you. Senator Herron, do you have a web site?

Senator Herron —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Is it a departmental one?

Senator Herron —Yes. I do not maintain a separate private web site. I think most ministers do, as Ms Roper said.

Senator LUNDY —They get a ministerial web site through the department.

Ms Roper —I think it is probably incorrect to say they get a ministerial web site through the department. They have, for instance, a sort of www.RichardAlston.docita.gov.au, and it would be similar for the minister.

Senator LUNDY —So that is the ministerial web site?

Ms Roper —That is the access to the minister's site, yes.

Senator Herron —But it is linked then with the department.

Senator LUNDY —I appreciate that. Senator Alston's is a good example to use because I visit it so often.

Senator Herron —He will be pleased.

Senator LUNDY —I know he will be pleased to hear that. While we are on this, does it make sense to have the DOCITA corporate services people come to the table who can perhaps answer questions, because that is where I am heading now anyway.

Ms Roper —So you want to ask questions about how the DOCITA web site works?

Senator LUNDY —Yes, generally.

Ms Roper —So we are not talking about ministerial web sites?

Senator LUNDY —No, I have put the questions on notice—that is fine.

Ms Roper —Okay, thank you for that.

Senator LUNDY —I am happy to move on. I am just conscious of the time. I have got about 10 minutes to go. The question is: who maintains the minister's web site?

Mr Roberts —At the moment we actually maintain the minister's web site.

Senator LUNDY —So you are in corporate services in DOCITA?

Mr Roberts —Yes. Actually our ministerial and public affairs unit maintain it, and they are not here.

Senator LUNDY —Right. That is the unit that maintains it within corporate services at DOCITA?

Mr Roberts —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Can you tell me whether that is maintained in-house or whether that is outsourced?

Mr Roberts —No, we have our own in-house resources at the moment that do that.

Senator LUNDY —So you are doing the mark-up yourselves in that unit?

Mr Roberts —It would be unlikely that they would have the skills or the time up in the minister's office to do that, I would think.

Senator LUNDY —No, I appreciate that. It is good to see you are doing it in-house, too, regardless of the content. What about the rest of the DOCITA site?

Mr Roberts —Yes, likewise.

Senator LUNDY —That is all done in-house?

Mr Roberts —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Who owns the IP for that?

Mr Roberts —I do not know, to be honest. It was developed some years ago now so I do not know the history that far back.

Senator LUNDY —How many people are allocated to that task of maintaining that web site?

Mr Roberts —At the moment there is one full-time person and, depending on what needs to be done, various other resources may get involved.

Senator LUNDY —Do you contract someone in from time to time?

Mr Roberts —We rarely contract people in to maintain content. If we are going to actually change any structure—

Senator LUNDY —Do a build or something?

Mr Roberts —Usually unless we are doing something really technical that requires us to change the way the thing operates we would not contract it in I do not think at the moment.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the guidelines issued by the Office of Government Online, I presume, with this recent strategy, there will be some upgrades required and perhaps modifications to the site.

Mr Roberts —Yes. We are actually going through quite a big process at the moment, almost starting from scratch. When the current web site was developed three years ago, it was considered leading edge. It probably is not now. We recognise that and we are going through a process of looking at what best practice is now. We will be redeveloping and doing a new web site within the next three to four months.

Senator LUNDY —Was that decision to upgrade the web site something that accompanied the overall government online strategy, or is it a decision that was taken within your group?

Mr Roberts —It is probably dated before that. We had our review done some eight or nine months ago which was carried out because areas of the department were looking to do things a little differently—to spruce it up, if you like. It was generated back then but, obviously, it has got a lot more momentum now as well.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of the back end of that web site, what sort of tracking do you do of visits to that web site?

Mr Roberts —At the moment, we do limited tracking. That was one of the key areas that we identified that we were a little lacking in. That is one of the reasons why we are going through a new development. Certainly, we are very interested in continuous improvement of that site. Like I said, with respect to the current site, some of the technology is a little dated and that is why we are going to change so that we can try to build something that we can continuously improve rather than build something that is going to be out of date again in another three years.

Senator LUNDY —In terms of that back end tracking, what sort of system do you have? I presume you have an analysing tool so that you can track movement through the site?

Mr Roberts —Yes, we can track hits and some movement. It is probably not as sophisticated as we would like; hence one of the reasons we are—

Senator LUNDY —So you are hoping to upgrade that?

Mr Roberts —Absolutely.

Senator LUNDY —I guess I am making a big assumption that you are adhering to privacy principles, but you had better clarify it for me. In terms of that tracking, is it done anonymously?

Mr Roberts —I do not know what we do at the technical level. We may need to take it on notice.

Senator LUNDY —If you could take on notice what privacy principles are actively applied to the management of that site, that would be useful.

Mr Roberts —Sure.

Senator LUNDY —Does the site solicit input or feedback from people using it—I guess as a general survey as opposed to an `apply here for such and such'?

Mr Roberts —It has the facility to do so. Because I do not actually receive any of that—that is not part of what I do—I cannot really comment on the level or volume. I know we do get certain levels of feedback but I cannot really go into much detail there.

Senator LUNDY —Could you take this on notice: if you do collect any information on general inquiries or anything else, do you database that input for the purposes of using that information for subsequent marketing? I suppose marketing is the wrong word, but you know the Internet marketing techniques as well as I do. Do you use it for subsequent information sharing or promotion with respect to DOCITA's activities?

Mr Roberts —If I understand your question, I do not think we are allowed to do that, are we?

Senator LUNDY —I am asking you. I would not think so. But the whole concept of cross-marketing is pretty pervasive within organisations and I guess that is what I am getting at. Is there any cross-marketing strategy applied to information gathered through that site?

Mr Roberts —No.

Senator LUNDY —Have you ever outsourced the construction and maintenance of DOCITA's web site?

Mr Roberts —As I said before, not the actual content but some of the more technical things.

Senator LUNDY —Is that back in-house now?

Mr Roberts —No. As you know, we are part of group 5 and Advantra look after our services now. They have a certain role in doing it in that they provide infrastructure and support up to a certain level. We pick up beyond that.

Senator LUNDY —But you would maintain your own server for the site, wouldn't you?

Mr Roberts —No, that is part of the Advantra contract. The actual server, the hardware and the infrastructure that it all sits on is maintained by Advantra.

Senator LUNDY —And the look and feel of the site, like the structure of it, is not done in-house?

Mr Roberts —It is. That is the content.

Senator LUNDY —No, not the content within the site but the framework and the graphic infrastructure that the content sits inside.

Mr Roberts —That was part of the original design some three years ago. That is now one of the limiting factors and one of the reasons we want to update.

Senator LUNDY —Who did that for you?

Mr Roberts —I do not know to be honest.

Senator LUNDY —You could take that on notice.

Mr Roberts —I am pretty sure it was done in-house, but we will take that on notice for you.

Senator LUNDY —Thank you. I want to go now in the last few minutes onto the IT outsourcing generally. Just quickly, in each of the portfolio budget statements there is a little paragraph tacked on the end as there was back in 1996-97 with the IT outsourcing that mentioned CTC competitive tendering and contracting. How much did the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts lose from their budget this year with respect to CTC?

Ms Roper —Nothing, Senator.

Senator LUNDY —Nothing.

Ms Roper —No.

Senator LUNDY —How come? Just lucky?

Ms Roper —Just lucky.

Senator LUNDY —Can you take me to the page in the PBS where it mentions CTC for DOCITA. As a result of a policy decision, departments have been effectively mandated to outsource corporate services. Have you already outsourced your corporate services?

Ms Roper —No, we are in the process of market testing at the moment for our corporate services.

Senator LUNDY —With other agencies Finance in their eternal wisdom estimated savings that would be derived from such an exercise and took a cut off the top. How come DCITA did not lose any money and nearly everyone else did?

Mr Marsden —Senator, are you referring to the savings from the IT outsourcing?

Senator LUNDY —No, I am actually referring to savings in relation specifically to the CTC, not the IT.

Mr Marsden —No, we have not had any savings taken from us for CTC.

Senator LUNDY —What did you lose off the top of your budget with respect to the IT outsourcing for this financial year?

Mr Marsden —That was question No. 91 from last budget hearings, and the answer to that was $172,000 in 1999-2000. The full year effect in 2000-01 is $354,000 from our base.

Senator LUNDY —Is any of that proportion of money loss attributed to the outsourcing of corporate services?

Mr Marsden —No, that was just IT.

Senator LUNDY —I find that unusual because, as I said, most other agencies and departments from my very preliminary analysis lost something off the top in the same way that they lost something off the top with respect to IT outsourcing. With regard to your IT outsourcing, how are your savings going?

Mr Marsden —That is difficult for us to measure at this point in time. If you remember our discussion about 12 months ago, we mentioned our platform at that time was NT and Banyan. We are still on that dual platform. We have not moved to the standard operating environment as yet.

Senator LUNDY —Why not?

Mr Marsden —There is quite a heavy overhead in maintaining that dual environment, so the savings we expect to accrue from the outsourcing—assuming there are savings at the end of the day—will not be realised until we move to the standard operating environment, which, as we discussed last time, is Novel.

Senator LUNDY —Why haven't you migrated across as you planned?

Mr Marsden —The original plan was to migrate across in April of this year. That was delayed for a number of reasons. The outsourcer was still recruiting the necessary staff. They decided to take one agency first to use that as a pilot, and that is Transport and Regional Services, and then our agency will follow. So basically, yes, we are behind schedule.

Senator LUNDY —What has been done to compensate DOCITA for the additional cost as a result of something that was out of your control and was effectively in the hands of your vendor? Are you able to apply sanctions?

Mr Marsden —Sanctions in relation to non-performance, yes. But, if you recall our discussion 12 months ago, our charges are based on usage. We believe in the life of the contract we will make substantial changes but—

Senator LUNDY —That is what everybody keeps saying, `We will make the savings in a few years time, just not now.' I am sorry, I will let you continue. I can appreciate your frustration. I am just curious as to what costs you are incurring as a result of the inefficiency created by having to maintain a dual system for a period of time longer than expected.

Mr Marsden —It is inefficient having a dual system, but I would not say we are losing money because—

Senator LUNDY —You are not saving as much, right?

Mr Marsden —We inherited a number of changes in October 1998 with the machinery of government changes. For some of the parts of the new department we did not physically pick up their infrastructure until March 1999. An example is the Office of Government Online. The reason was that they were in a different building to the main part of the department—we were in Sydney Avenue, they were in Northbourne Avenue—so IPM GSA maintained that service until March 1999. At that point when we moved them across to the department we found ourselves bearing quite a heavy cost in maintaining that connection, so that cost was already there with us. We hope when we move to that standard platform that that cost will come down. So there has really been no change in that sense.

Senator LUNDY —Have you been able to attribute a cost figure to the machinery of government changes?

Mr Marsden —No, not accurately. I am not sure we could make an estimate on that either.

Senator LUNDY —Could you take that on notice and see if you can come up with a figure? It would be interesting.

Mr Marsden —Yes.

Ms Roper —I am not sure that we can take it on notice. I am not sure about the boundary around what you are saying there.

Senator LUNDY —It is in terms of the machinery of government changes.

Ms Roper —The 1998 changes?

Senator LUNDY —Yes. The impact on your ability to proceed with your contract effectively and cost effectively.

Ms Roper —With the IT outsourcing contract?

Senator LUNDY —Yes.

Ms Roper —I do not know whether we would be able to make that estimation. I do not think we could even take that on notice. It would be a very difficult one to get an accurate account from.

Senator LUNDY —You can try.

Ms Roper —There would be so many unders and overs and so many other parameters that would exist within that. It would be very difficult.

Senator LUNDY —I would not be surprised. I would appreciate it if you could try, or give me an explanation why it was impossible to come up with such a figure. That would be fine.

One final question with respect to IT outsourcing: on the implementation of the contract with Advantra, have all the service level agreements been achieved or have you experienced failings in different aspects of the contract to date?

Mr Marsden —Yes, we have had some experience of where the service levels have not been met to date. Principally it has been the area of LAN availability. We have had two outages of significance that I can recall. Therefore, LAN availability was not met in those months.

Senator LUNDY —Were sanctions applied?

Mr Marsden —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Are you able to put a percentage on the service level agreements that failed in the contract to date, just to try to give me some sort of indicative—

Mr Marsden —Senator, I would have to take that on notice to give you that detail.

Senator LUNDY —That would be useful. That is all I have, Chair. I thank the departmental officers.

CHAIR —I thank the minister for being here, I thank the staff for being here and I thank Hansard for their services during the estimates. I thank the committee secretariat. The committee is adjourned and these estimates are now concluded.

Committee adjourned at 9.01 p.m.