Need proof that the machinery of Australian government is as outdated as the steam locomotive and the electric telegraph? Look no further than that quaint ritual called the Federal Budget.
Here we imagine that once a year we can produce a Big List of Numbers that’ll cover everything our “modern” nation-state will need to deal with for the next 365 days.
We proclaim it Good or Bad for this or that self-interested sector of the community on the basis of a quick glance, a gut reaction, and the need to create a narrative that’ll attract an audience or justify a pre-existing political zealotry.
We pretend to believe numbers like “$20 million over four years” when only a tiny part of that might be committed in the coming financial year and the rest, still to be confirmed in the next Budget, is therefore nothing but wishful thinking.
The reality, of course, is that the world moves faster than this. We experience a sudden global financial crisis, and must immediately tighten our belts by … um … giving away $900 cash to everyone.
Anyway, here’s my deep and insightful analysis, giving the numbers for the 2009-2010 year only…
The Cyber-Safety Plan is unchanged. The internet filter trials continue.
The Australian Federal Police gets no extra money to chase p-dophiles, but $15m more to fight people-smuggling; $9m to cover the increased cost of policing at the 11 major airports (corpse at Sydney Airport, anyone?); and $4.2m more (including $1m capex) for their deployment to Pakistan. There’s savings from rearranging AFP logistics in Afghanistan: Defence can apparently do it cheaper than private contractors.
$2.5m will kick off implementing recommendations of the E-Security Review 2008, establishing a national computer emergency response team — that’s the folks who chase away the hackers — and reviewing the government’s internet gateways.
But the big-ticket item is the National Broadband Network.
$54m is allocated in 2009-2010 for “implementation and establishment” of the NBN. Nothing has been committed beyond that.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will “conduct an implementation study into the NBN that will examine detailed engineering, commercial and structural issues and report by early 2010,” says that always-exciting read, Budget Paper No 2.
“The funding will also support … the early implementation of a network in Tasmania, implementation of the regional backbone blackspots program, and development of legislation and a regulatory framework.”
Proof, in other words, that there hasn’t been any proper analysis of the NBN before this, and that the quoted cost of $43 billion was a made-up number.
And that shouldn’t surprise us. Until they’re properly specified, IT project costings can vary wildly. It’s only after you plan them out and consider alternative approaches that you can narrow the margins of those guesstimates.
A year ago I complained that of the (then) $4.7b NBN, only 0.16% had been allocated: $2.1m in 2008-2009 and $5.2m in 2009-2010 for “establishment and implementation”. Now, it seems, yet another year and another $54m will drift by before a single Australian home gets the magic new fibre internet.
Apart, that is, from some lucky Tasmanians.
“All. Too. Slow. And. Vague.” I concluded in 2008. Ditto for 2009.