Federal Budget cuts have not affected the Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy. This is not surprising given the heavy investment in the National Broadband Network (NBN) and related programs. The Government has allocated a further $4.9 million to improve public understanding of the NBN, as well as $2.4 million to assist the Department in providing support during the rollout period. Recently the NBN rollout has undergone some delays and as a consequence of the delays the equity requirement from the Government has reduced from $4.7 billion to $2.6 billion this year. Over the next four years the Government intends to provide $21.4 billion in equity to NBN Co Limited to design, build and operate the NBN.
The Budget has affected a number of other technology and innovation issues:
- Mandatory Internet Filtering: The Government will make a saving of $4.5 million over three years by not proceeding with the proposed mandatory filtering legislation. Internet Service Providers will still be required to block child abuse websites on the INTERPOL ‘worst of’ child abuse list, in accordance with their obligations under the Telecommunications Act 1997.
- Clean Technology Program: The Government intends to re-profile the Clean Technology Program to allow the industry to better align with anticipated demand. The movement of $58 million in investment from 2012-2013 to 2017-2018 reflects alterations whereby payment is made in arrears upon achievement of milestones. The Clean Technology Program will still provide $1.2 billion over seven years from 2011-2012 to assist the development of a low carbon economy.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): The Government will invest $2.5 billion over three years in the ABC to assist in the operating of its television, radio and online services. A further $69.4 million has been allocated to enhance the ABC’s news services and $30 million to maintain and expand the ABC’s online services.
- Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS): The Government will provide $20 million over three years to assist the ability of SBS to provide television, radio and online services. This builds on the additional $95.2 million over five years that was announced in the 2012-2013 Budget and its base funding of $587m over three years.
- Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA): The Government will provide ACMA with $10.5 million over four years to upgrade and relocate its high frequency directional and very high frequency monitoring facilities which are used to identify instances of accidental or deliberate misuse of the radiofrequency spectrum. On top of this, the Government will invest $6 million over four years to continue the revenue assurance project which improves broadcasters’ and telecommunication carriers’ understanding of revenue disclosure and other reporting requirements.
- National Health Information Network (NHIN): The Government will cease funding for the NHIN from 1 July 2015. The NHIN was established prior to the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record, which now manages largely the same functions. This will result in a saving of $31.2 million over two years.
- Keeping Seniors Connected: The Government has allocated $9.9 million over four years to upgrade broadband for seniors’ kiosks, providing senior Australians with an easy means of connecting to the internet. A further $5 million will be invested in education and training for seniors.
- Australian Research Council: The Government will provide $14.2 million over four years to allow the Australian Research Council to improve and upgrade its information and technology systems.
- Creative Australia – Australian Interactive Games Fund: The Government will provide $20 million over three years to Screen Australia to establish and develop an Australian Interactive Games Fund. This was originally budgeted in 2012-2013 but as a ‘decision taken but not yet announced’.
- Creative Australia – Community Based Radio Services: The Government will provide $5.4 million over five years to assist the development of community based radio services, $2.7 million of which will be used to continue the operation of the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project which promotes new Australian music to community radio stations.
- Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC): The Government will provide $16.1 million over four years to AUSTRAC for the establishment of a new data centre, which will house AUSTRAC’s computer systems and electronic records.
- Indigenous Communications Program: The Government will provide $6.5 million over three years to continue its partnership with the States and Territories to provide internet access and training to Indigenous communities through the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access.
- Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme: The Government will provide $2.5 million to this Scheme to continue its support for another year. The scheme provides phone subsidies for those living in remote areas outside terrestrial mobile coverage.
- Australian Cyber Security Centre: The Government intends to establish a multi-agency Australian Cyber Security Centre which will bring together capabilities from across Australia’s various law enforcement agencies to improve Australia’s cyber security. There is no allocated budget for this.
- Automated Border Processing for Departures: The Government will provide $8.4 million over the next two years to test automated border processing technology for departures from Australian airports. Automated border processing is currently in place for arrivals only.
- Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC): The Government will provide MSAC with $19.6 million in funding over the next two years to review the proposed new medical technologies and procedures set out on the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
- Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO): The Government will provide $28.7 million over four years to ANSTO for the management of nuclear liabilities, including the decommissioning of the High Flux Australian Reactor. A further $8.1 million will be allocated to ANSTO to meet the increasing costs of operating the Open Pool Australian Lightwater nuclear research reactor.
In summary, there are few significant technology and innovation issues in the Budget this year. That said, the Federal Government still has one of the largest technology budgets in the country and will remain a key focus for all those involved in the industry, especially those sectors touched by the NBN rollout and associated content delivery.