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Coalition puts key ICT reforms under the knife

by Aleks Vickovich •
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The Coalition has announced it will take an axe to major Labor Government initiatives if it wins the upcoming federal election A number of these initiatives have significant ICT implications including e-health, the Australian Public Service (APS) Reforms, the Digital Education Revolution and the National Broadband Network (NBN).

In an updated list of budget savings released on Tuesday 20 July, the Coalition has announced its plan to extend the initiatives it will discontinue and has projected the estimated savings that will result from the cuts. 

The cuts are in line with a central platform of Liberal Party Leader Tony Abbott’s ‘action contract’ for the 2010 election to ‘restore the budget surplus within three years and start paying Labor’s debt’.  The Coalition’s so far announced budget savings measures list has ICT impacts that will flow through to 2014 in the following areas:

  • $466.8 million by scrapping e-health initiatives linked to the National Health and Hospitals Network scheme (this is the total figure allocated to e-health initiatives in the 2010-11 budget);
  • $700 million by discontinuing the Digital Education Revolution (computers in schools) program;
  • $24.3 million by discontinuing funding for the NBN implementation process and a further $2.4 billion in interest savings on cancelling the NBN (contingency reserve);
  • $100 million by cancelling funds for the retraining and redeployment of Telstra staff;
  • $38.6 million by discontinuing the APS reform agenda; and
  • $4.1 million by discontinuing funding for the MySkills website.

The Coalition first made its intention to cut funding to the government’s e-health agenda clear in May 2010 with Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey’s address to the National Press Club. 

Intermedium’s analysis of Federal Government Annual Procurement Plans indicates that the Department of Health had listed 36 planned ICT procurements for 2010-11, most of which are related to e-health initiatives and the Pharmaceutical Consolidated Information System (PharmCIS) which assists the listing and navigation of drugs available on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS). 

While the Coalition has not specifically outlined which e-health initiatives it will cut and/or keep, projects at risk include:

  • The Healthcare Identifiers program which was enacted into legislation (The Healthcare Identifiers Act 2001) on 24 June 2010;
  • A healthcare services directory;
  • Electronic waitlists and patient direct booking services;
  • Electronic imagery, pathology, referral and discharge services; and
  • e-Prescribing and electronic medication lists.

The discontinuation of the APS reform will also have a significant ICT impact, if not in 2010-11, then in the immediate out years, where the flagged, but as yet largely unspecified client service delivery changes are most likely to have been scoped and costed.  The APS reforms are the result of the recommendations of the Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (Moran Report).   Apart from its intended general benefits to government service delivery, the Moran reforms also had a number of ICT-related recommendations including:

  • Greater information sharing capacity between agencies and jurisdictions;
  • Improved accessibility to government service information;
  • An extension of standard business reporting (SBR)program and a general minimisation of reporting and compliance requirements; and
  • Conducting a survey of citizen satisfaction with government service delivery, which may in turn present some ICT opportunities if agencies were to acquire and use technologies themselves in this process.

The APS reforms were seen by the Rudd Government as essential in creating more efficient government service delivery.  But, as Intermedium has speculated, the reform implementation process may not enjoy the same level of priority under Julia Gillard’s leadership.

The Coalition’s projected savings arising from the cancellation of this program reflects only the 2010-11 Budget allocation of $38.7 million. Given the potential scope of the reform, this figure is likely to be sufficient for the commencement of the implementation process, rather than the actual program.  It could not fully take into account any wide-reaching client service delivery initiatives initiated under the umbrella of the APS reforms. 

The Coalition’s updated budget savings document makes clear that “some of these program savings will be offset by lower cost and more effective Coalition programmes” but the Coalition is yet to announce just what these programs will be.

ICT Signposts: Post Election Briefing Thursday 26 August 2010, 07:15-09:30am Venue TBC, Canberra

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  • Federal
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  • tony abbott