Monday, October 31, 2011

Australia's Shrinking ICT Policy Engagement

It is really quite hard to come to grips with exactly what has been happening in the ICT lobbying space over recent years. Australia had three groups with a policy focus in the ICT space.

The user side was represented by the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG) which this year celebrated its 3oth anniversary by closing its doors. The charitable interpretation was that the organisation had achieved its objective, as competition in telecommunications was secure and indeed the structural separation of Telstra (a long held ATUG goal) was occurring.

At the time I questioned the decision noting that ATUG had been trying to create a role as the Digital Economy Stakeholders Forum. I noted that the AIIA has rebranded itself as The Voice of the Digital Economy, and this organisation was even touted as a possible merger partner for ATUG.

Now we hear that the Australian Information Industries Association (AIIA) is halving its head count and declining a role to promote our ICT industry. There are no advices of these on the AIIA website, though both the AIIA CEO and Chair are quoted in the stories.

The CEO maintains there has been no decline in membership, but the section of the website that identifies members seems to be not accessible today. However it was noted that the AIIA board consists of ten reps of multinationals and only six from domestic firms.

Finally the Internet Industry Association has been undergoing turmoil and has appointed as interim CEO the same person who performed the close down role at ATUG.

In the case of both ATUG and the IIA it is known that a factor was the decision of Telstra to rationalise the associations it participated in. It is unclear whether Telstra has also withdrawn from the AIIA.

Outside of Telstra support comes from multinational ICT firms that must increasingly wonder about the value of involvement in Australian policy work, especially as the Australian government seems to have downgraded its own direct involvement in this work.

There is a case for "middle power diplomacy" for Australia in global ICT policy. But the Government has to recognise there is no "industry" to speak of that is uniquely Australian to take up these issues.

It is also becoming apparent that the decision of the ALP to remove the IT component of policy from the Department of Communications etc has led to a significant reduction in policy interest.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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