At a time when it is cutting back on services, the Gillard Government will spend $29.7 million over the next four years to upgrade online services to the public. The NBN Co, too is a big winner in Swan’s latest mid-year economic outlook.
Despite a weaker global economy, the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan has committed funding for several IT projects.
The biggest IT spend is $29.7 million over four years for a multi-agency ICT framework “that gives customers more convenient access to online Commonwealth services,” starting with Human Services.
The agency was given $157.6 million in the 2011-2012 budget for a single online portal combining Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will receive $2.1 million to begin tracking online retail spending of both domestic and international online retailers.
On the other hand, the Government has flagged cutbacks in research and development, with the Department of Industry and Innovation losing $1.3 billion over four years, mainly from skills and education programs.
Swan said the Government aimed to make $16.4 billion in savings in order to ensure that it will reach an underlying cash surplus in 2013 of $1.1 billion.
The Treasurer said he is expecting $549.5 million in savings over the next four years through “pursuing further efficiencies in the way the public service operates.”
Defence and the Departments of the Senate and House of Representatives are excluded from this savings program.
Kevin Noonan, public sector research director at Ovum, said the MYEFO was a “steady-as-she-goes path ahead for the rest of the financial year.” “Last year, the Government’s MYEFO statement was essentially a mini-budget, announcing substantial cuts to public sector running budgets and capital expenditure,” said Noonan.
.”With these cuts still washing through government agencies, further cuts would have created significant problems. This is particularly the case, given the announced further tightening of government funding, in September.
“With many government agencies now running on the smell of an oily rag, future savings will need to come through productivity and innovation, rather than old-fashioned cross-board cost-cutting.”
– One winner from the MYEFO is NBN Co to which the Government allocated an additional $20 million to advertise the $37 billion National Broadband Network in major cities.
The funding is being set aside to “improve public understanding, address misconceptions and provide updated information” about the national network.
The funding will be limited, however, to Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, with – sorry, Hobart – no mention made of other states or cities.
It comes on top of an increasing marketing budget at NBN Co itself which revealed it had more than tripled its advertising and marketing budget from $2.6 million in the 2010-2011 financial year to $11.2 million in the current year.