Two major digital funding commitments were announced in the 2020-21 Victorian Budget. Victoria’s “Digital Future Now” aims to improve regional and remote telecommunications connectivity, as well as digital skills training, while the “Digital Victoria” initiative moves to focus on digital transformation efforts in the state.
The Digital Future Now package, to receive $626m over the next six years, will include $250m to “co-fund business-grade broadband connectivity for Victorian suburbs and regional towns through the Gigabit State program” with the federal government acting as a partner. This will include fixed wireless and satellite access for regional areas with gaps in the fibre optic network.
$300m is dedicated towards a mobile blackspot program, with the announcement remaining “subject to a co-contribution” from Canberra. $64m will go towards to the Digital Skills and Jobs Program to help with digital reskilling for citizens who have become unemployed because of the economic downturn.
Victoria’s announcement is interesting, as it represents the first Labor-led state to spend big on digital initiatives of the announced post-COVID-19 budgets. The two announcements also dwarf the miniscule digital funding found in the 2019-20 Budget, released six months after the state’s 2018 election. Now with the Andrews’ Labor government having released its second budget of its second parliamentary term, the recommitment to digital in Australia’s second-largest state is a welcome change.
Victoria’s budget explicitly pointed to the state government’s desire to “position Victoria as a revived manufacturing centre and Australia’s digital and innovation capital”. This has seen $10.3m set aside for “innovation and digital jobs” to support graduate pathways into digital occupations. A digital and innovation hub in Cremorne ($12m) will spearhead an “urban technology precinct” intended to “help unemployed workers to re-skill and transition into digital careers”.
A total of $20m in cash grants will be offered to small business for “off-the-shelf digital programs, training and workshops” to help them adapt to an online environment.
Digital Victoria will receive $156.1m over four years through the Department of Premier and Cabinet to oversee public sector digital transformation, with $30.5m to be spent in 2020-21. The funding will establish the new unit to “drive the digital transformation across government and improve the user experience for business owners and local families alike”. Government Services Minister Danny Pearson signalled a stronger move towards data-driven policymaking, with the new unit aimed to drive a Whole of Government approach to digital. Pearson’s new Cabinet role was created in June this year, appearing to take its cue from the federal government’s Government Services Minister role held by Stuart Robert.
An investment of $25.6m over three years ($19.9m in 2020-21) will be used to develop digital citizen-centric services from the state’s service delivery agency, Service Victoria. The Budget states this funding will enable “services by creating new channels for simple, faster, high-volume transactions such as grant applications and permit approvals”. The government intends to partner with local government agencies to provide further aid to local small businesses, to help streamline its business licence processing system.
A one-off $7.5m investment in Cyber Safe Victoria aims to improve cyber security readiness across the state’s public sector.
Across the government “Digital government and communications” was funded to the tune of $70.9m in 2020-21. New outcomes will also be measured in conjunction with the funding announcement, including the number of government entities reporting cyber maturity (75), government board members with cyber security training (50) and the number of government entity websites transitioned to the Single Digital Presence Platform (22).
In 2020-21 a one-off payment of $4.2m was made available for Victoria Together, an online portal providing information and content from arts and cultural institutions and individuals in Victoria.
Victoria has also funded $49.5m towards “Advanced bushfire management” following the government’s response to and acceptance of recommendations from the Inquiry into the 2019-20 Victorian fire season – Phase 1 report and the Review of 10 years of reform of the emergency management sector. The government’s response highlighted “use of predictive forecasting tools to inform data analytics and intelligence” from 2021, and the development of “common spatial datasets” to protect roads and ensure fuel supply during times of emergency. Digital radio upgrades for Emergency Management Victoria was the single biggest new digital initiative in the previous 2019-20 Budget, at $70m over four years.
New Digital Strategy
Victoria’s current Information Technology Strategy 2016-2020 will expire this year, with the government considering the shape of its 2020+ Digital Strategy. It will likely work towards supporting the customer experience through developing services based around “life events” while improving data collection across the public sector.