On Saturday evening, polling booths around the country will close and the first ballots in the 2022 Federal Election will be counted.
For the ICT sector, the election means a renewed focus on skills training, advanced manufacturing, along with changes to the public service.
Australian Computer Society (ACS) President Dr Nick Tate said the industry body "welcomes both party’s proposals and look forward to working closely with whoever wins government to further develop the nation’s IT capabilities.”
Here’s what the major parties are promising if they win this weekend’s election:
National Broadband Network
Labor has tried to give the NBN prominence ahead of this election, promising to somewhat finish the job it started over a decade ago by expanding the fibre network to give 90 per cent of fixed-line premises the option of gigabit speeds by 2025.
The Coalition’s target – reconfigured toward fibre during the first year of the pandemic when much of the country was working from home – is to give 75 per cent of fixed-line premises the option of gigabit speeds by 2023.
Overall, Labor’s plan would see an extra 1.5 million of existing fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) premises hooked up with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) compared with the Coalition’s target – and 660,000 of those upgrades are earmarked for regional Australia.
In April, NBN announced an additional 90,000 homes in regional Australia would be eligible to request FTTP upgrades.
As the pandemic shone a light on the importance of solid internet connections, the subsequent supply chain shortages also revealed a severe lack in our local manufacturing sector as the arrival of manufactured goods from overseas slowed down.
The Coalition government tried to patch that gap with its $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy targeting six sectors: defence; mining; food and drinks; medical products; recycling and clean energy; and space.
Another $750 million will go toward funding those six priorities, should the Coalition be re-elected.
Labor’s approach to modernising Australia’s manufacturing sector would involve a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund from which it will draw loans, guarantees, and equity for eligible manufacturing projects.
Some of that $15 billion has been pre-allocated to specific areas including $1.5 billion for medical manufacturing and $1 billion for critical technologies like AI, robotics, and quantum computing.
Both parties have different visions for the public sector, should they form government this weekend.
The Coalition wants to increase the ‘efficiency dividend’ – a way of cutting public service budgets by a certain percentage each year – from 1.5 to 2 per cent.
This would result in a projected saving of more than $2.3 billion a year across government departments.
Labor’s approach to the public service is more targeted as it wants to end a reliance on contractors and consultants and instead focus on building a workforce of public servants.
It expects to save $3 billion over four years by reducing the reliance on contractors, although the proposal has generated skepticism about how exactly the public service would attract and retain the IT talent in an already hotly contested market.
Training the next generation
Addressing ongoing skills shortages in ICT and other areas requiring skilled workers are a part of both parties’ plans for the coming three years.
The Coalition has said it will continue the JobTrainer program that subsidises certain training programs for Australians to access on the cheap.
Universities, which were denied JobKeeper payments under the Coalition government and generally struggled through COVID-19, would be supported in the form of a re-elected Coalition’s University Research Commercialisation Action Plan – a $2.2 billion (over 10 years) strategy that would more closely align institutes of higher learning with commercial interests.
The Coalition also wants to spend $5 million to create a digital skills passport.
The centrepiece of Labor’s $1.2 billion training proposal is the promise of 465,000 fee-free TAFE places which will be supported by a $50 million spend on upgrading IT infrastructure, workshops, and labs at TAFE locations.
It also wants to open 20,000 new university places, focusing on placements for under-represented Australians including those in regional areas, first-in-family university students, and First Nations peoples.
The Coalition has promised to continue its online safety agenda with legislative instruments designed to more closely regulate online speech.
A re-elected Coalition government would push through its controversial Social Media Bill that could force social media companies to disclose identifying details about users to aid with defamation cases.
It also wants to provide greater funding for the eSafety Commissioner which has been empowered to direct global internet companies to delete certain links that point to inappropriate material.
Should it be elected, Labor has promised to legislate more protections for insecure workers like those in the gig economy by making ‘secure work’ a stated aim of the Fair Work Act.
Part of that would include incorporating the employee-like forms of work – such as gig economy contractors – into the remit of the Fair Work Commission to hopefully provide more protections and entitlements to the likes of food delivery riders.
Labor also wants to establish a Royal Commission into the ill-fated Robodebt scheme.
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