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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4860

Senator WATSON (2:59 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston. Will the minister please outline to the Senate the steps the government has taken to ensure Australia's information and communications technology industry continues to foster innovation and contribute to the broader economy? Is the minister aware of any alternative policy proposals and the effects that they will have on the ICT industry in Australia?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —That is a very good question, Senator Watson. I am very grateful, because it enables me to address an issue that Senator Lundy raised a short while ago, venting her usual spleen and prejudice against multinational corporations, believing they should be forced to do everything but of course not recognising that they have a choice as to whether they are involved in the Australian industry or not. As a result of our much more flexible approach, we recently announced a new simplified ICT procurement arrangement which allows for a much more transparent procurement system. It eliminates a lot of the red tape; at the same time there is a proactive ICT SME facilitation package. So we are about getting the balance right; we are about minimising the obligations you place on those who have a choice about whether to be involved in Australia, but you also encourage them to develop R&D in Australia and to put an emphasis on innovation. In fact, later this afternoon I am presenting Fujitsu with a certificate for recognition of their contribution to industry development in Australia. We certainly work closely with these large corporations to ensure that they choose to remain here and that they play an important role.

The stark contrast between us and the Labor Party was best exemplified by an absolute catastrophe for the government in the state of Western Australia recently. Senator Vanstone might have praise for them on one front, but can I say that what their minister for ICT did recently was an absolute disaster. He published a 100-page document on industry development without any consultation with the industry and backdated it. What it said was that, if you get more than $5 million worth of contracts with the state government, you have to automatically turn around and spend a dollar for every dollar you get, which is effectively a tax—and retrospective at that. You can imagine the huge outcry that followed, and now of course as a result the government are in full disaster recovery mode; they are reviewing the policy.

I wondered how on earth they could have got it so wrong: where did they get their inspiration from? Of course, we went to the obvious source; we checked Senator Lundy's web site—and what did we find under ICT industry? Blank! We thought, `Maybe there are some stats that are pretty relevant,' but we find that on her web site ABS stats on Internet access cease at 1998. The latest information on innovation is contained in a speech in 1999. As for industry development, which of course is what this is all about, there was a total blank. Believe it or not, this is the same Senator Lundy who got herself in the Canberra Times recently with a very studious portrait looking earnestly into a computer and saying things like, `The strength of my web site is in the immediacy and the control of the content, and I take full responsibility for my site's content.' You wonder where they get it from, don't you? Talk about trying to sell an image without any substance! This is a very sad sizzle, Senator Lundy. The reality is Senator Lundy was on the adjournment last night rabbiting on about broadband take-up being nondescript. Well, 131 per cent in the last 12 months on broadband, DSL with 354 per cent, business with 299 per cent—it is about as good as it gets and maybe it can get better, but it is hardly an indication that broadband take-up is pretty sluggish. Of course, Senator Lundy's proposals for things like forcing all broadband providers to be open access—in other words, turning them into utilities so they cannot make a quid—are about the best way to send them out of Australia as well. So you will be getting rid of the multinationals on the one hand, you will be closing down broadband suppliers on the other and of course what you will do to Telstra heaven only knows. It is very bad news over there, and I think it is about time for a change. (Time expired)

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.