You might think that “the single largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia’s history”, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd billed the National Broadband Network on April 7 last year, would figure prominently in the Budget. It doesn’t. For the third year running, the bulk of the NBN’s cost to taxpayers remains unspecified.
The NBN Implementation Study, finally released last week, claims “only” $26 billion of government investment will be needed over seven years. But the only detail in Budget 2010 is that $300 million, a mere 1.15% of the total, will come in the form of Aussie Infrastructure Bonds during 2010-2011. The rest is still to be detailed — and that awaits the government’s response to the Implementation Study in the next month or so, which “may require changes to the size and timing of equity injections”.
Yet the Senate is expected to debate the telecommunications reform legislation today.
What is detailed for the NBN is this: $5.8 million this coming financial year for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to implement NBN access arrangements, regulatory reporting and pricing advice (all to be paid for by NBN Co’s license fees); $14 million to DBCDE for implementation and oversight; $600,000 to Finance and Deregulation to manage the government shareholding in NBN Co.
In all of that, I’m quoting 2010-2011 costs only, since as I observed last year, in a fast-changing world, budgets are made-up numbers beyond that. For the NBN, made-up numbers seem to be de rigueur.
Border control gets a technology boost in a border-controllish election year. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship gets almost $170 million for ongoing maintenance of its “Systems for People” IT platform that, as technology news wire Delimiter reports, was already a recipient of several budget increases on top of its original $495 million allocation from 2006. Another $69.4 million goes to new biometric systems for “certain visa applicants” — fingerprints and face scans for applicants from a certain ten countries.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gets $100.8 million over six years to build a new passport-issuing system. Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says this includes eCase, which will provide “significantly enhanced fraud investigation, analytical and intelligence capabilities and case management functions”.
Cyber-safety funding has been re-allocated. About $25 million remains unspent by DBCDE in 2009-2010 because the mandatory internet filter was delayed, so that money, plus another $3 million, will be spread across four years, split between the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD).
ACMA gets roughly $4.5 million per year to maintain the blacklist of Refused Classification material, cover a grants program to “assist and encourage ISPs to offer to customers wider forms of filtering on a commercial basis” and to “enhance cyber-safety education, awareness raising and counselling services”. Billed as “Cyber-safety enhancement”, this is of course in addition to the $2.8 million per year allocated to ACMA in Budget 2008.
AGD gets on average $1.55 million per year so the Classification Board can formally classify online material referred to it by ACMA.
A new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability for the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) will cost $14.5 million over four years: “Key law enforcement staff from across the Commonwealth with access to law enforcement databases will be co-located within the ACC to improve sharing of intelligence between partner agencies in relation to serious and organised crime.”
In the big-but-boring department, $466 million goes to implement eHealth records, which reportedly have the potential to save 5000 lives and $7.6 billion annually by 2020. There’s also $11.9 million over three years to implement a whole‑of‑government data centre strategy, claimed to save a billion dollars over the next ten to 15 years. Centrelink gets $71 million in technology to combat fraud.
Finally, Budget 2010 shows a tiny sign of Government 2.0 thinking. Apart from the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, all material presented in the core Department of Finance and Deregulation documents is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia license, making it freely re-usable provided credit is given. That’s a significant change from the highly-restrictive “all rights reserved”, but one which has yet to filter down to other departments.