SOME IT HIGHLIGHTS
* ONLINE PREPARED TAX RETURN: The ATO will prepare an default on-line tax return for everyone who has submitted their return electronically in the past (either themselves or via an agent). The taxpayer can accept the on-line return or amend it, or do their own. This sounds a good idea, but depends on security issues being sorted out.
QUALITY OF THE WEB PAGE
Each year since 1996 the budget web site has got better. But the 2007-08 site <http://www.budget.gov.au/> does not seems to have improved from last year. The site is HTML 4.01 Transitional, not XHTML, as used for newer web sites. There is some CSS formatting embedded in the web page, which appears to have been put in at the last minute to fix some problems ("backslash hack for IE/Mac v2" for example). This really should be in the separate CSS files.
The home page passed an automated Level 1 accessibility test and only failed Level 2 and Level 3 tests on two minor technical issues. The result is that the budget web page works with graphics turned off, for people who can't see images or have a very slow link. Even on a slow link with images it will be reasonably fast: about 27 seconds on a 14.4 kbps link. However, 34 of the 46 kbyes of the downlaod are images and the masthead image in particular could be made smaller.
Last year I criticized the web site for having important tables in the overview as blurry little image files and the PDF versions as excessively large. The situation seems to have got worse, with graphics, such as "Major economic parameters" not showing up at all on the overview web page <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/overview/html/overview_01.htm>. The three column layout used is well implemented using CSS, but would be more readable with one simple column. The web versions of the documents are also excessively large.
IT IN THE BUDGET
Introduced in 2003, the budget web site has a useful search service, but it seems a little less useful this year than last. Entering "Information Technology" took eight seconds to do a search at 8:10pm and returned 26 results (up from 25 last year). But as last year almost all these references appear to be in the name of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.
Some items of interest from the search:
Australian Broadband Guarantee - establishment of broadband blackspot programme <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-05.htm>
The Government will provide $30.1 million in 2006-07 and $112.4 million in 2007-08 to provide subsidised internet access for Australians currently unable to gain a metropolitan-comparable level of broadband service at their principal place of residence or small business.
This measure includes the reallocation of $26.9 million in 2006-07 and $18.9 million in 2007-08 from the Metropolitan Broadband Connect programme.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Regional and Local Programming initiative - continuation of funding <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-05.htm>
The Government will provide $19.1 million in 2008-09 to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to continue base funding for the Regional and Local Programming initiative. This will align the funding of this initiative with the ABC's overall triennial funding arrangements.
The initiative provides funding for regional and local programming in a range of content categories across radio, television and internet platforms.
Provision for this funding has already been included in the forward estimates.
Simplified Superannuation - additional funding for implementation <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-29.htm>
... The Government will provide additional funding of $78.5 million over two years for information and communications technology (ICT) costs for delivering simplified superannuation reform.
The additional funding reflects revised estimates of the ICT costs associated with implementing the reforms.
National Plan for Water Security - improving water information <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-11.htm>
... The Government will provide $417.2 million over 10 years (including $235.0 million over six years from 2011-12) to the Bureau of Meteorology to improve the detail and scope of nationally available water information, which will allow the Bureau to forecast, analyse and publicly report on water resource usage.
This funding is conditional on the governance arrangements for the Murray-Darling Basin being placed on a national footing.
This measure forms part of the Government's $10 billion National Plan for Water Security.
This component of the National Plan for Water Security has four key elements:
* assisting water data collecting agencies to modernise and extend their water information and measurement networks;
* maintaining a national database and web-based reporting system for all water information, including maintaining a national water account and managing the information collected from the metering, monitoring and accounting element of the National Plan;
* improving analysis and interpretation of national water information and forecasting services; and
* commissioning strategic investigations and purchasing data to address water information needs.
A Better Future for Indigenous Australians - continuation of the Cape York Digital Network <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-16.htm>
The Government will provide $2.2 million over four years to continue operating six community online access centres in the remote communities of Hopevale, Napranum, Umagico, Coen, Injinoo and Lockhart River. These centres provide access to computers and online services, as well as IT training and support to all community members.
Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA) - extension of data collection <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-16.htm>
The Government will provide $20.9 million over four years to collect a further four waves of data in the HILDA survey as part of its long-term commitment to the study. The survey, established in the 1999-2000 Budget, follows the same households over time. It will continue to provide data necessary for longitudinal analysis of the effects of policy and other changes on families and household formation; labour market and education participation; and retirement and retirement preparation. The data is used by Government departments in policy development and evaluation and by Australian and international researchers.
This measure includes $57,000 in capital funding in 2010-11 to upgrade related computer systems.
Influenza pandemic - managing the social and community impacts <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-16.htm>
The Government will provide $10.5 million over four years to undertake preparations to manage the social and community impacts in the event of an influenza pandemic. Preparations will include developing a pandemic awareness training programme for social workers, a national volunteer database to match volunteer skills with opportunities and a framework to maintain critical social services provided by not-for-profit organisations.
This measure includes funding for Centrelink of $2.9 million in 2007-08, $0.9 million in 2008-09, $0.8 million in 2009-10 and $0.8 million in 2010-11. It also includes capital funding of $2.5 million in 2007-08 for computer system enhancements.
National Illicit Drug Strategy - Australian Federal Police communications network <http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-04.htm>
The Government will provide $5.2 million over four years to continue the connection of Australian Federal Police overseas posts to the national computer system, AFPNet.
This continues an initiative included in the 2003-04 Budget and involves funding of $1.3 million per annum over four years from 2007-08. Provision for this funding has already been included in the forward estimates.
Comments on previous budgets: