Tuesday, May 13, 2014

IT matters of interest in the 2014/2015 Federal Budget

Just about every year since the Australian Federal Budget was first put on the web, I have done a quick search though the documents to find matters of interest in information technology.


The budget search service responded promptly. References to "Information Technology" were down from 5 last year to 4 (well below the 15 in 2011/12). All the references to IT were in Budget Paper No. 1 "Budget Strategy and Outlook":
    1. Statement 4: Sustaining strong growth in living standards - Conclusion
    2. Statement 8: Statement of Risks - Fiscal risks
    3. Statement 8: Statement of Risks - Contingent liabilities and assets
    4. Statement 8: Statement of Risks - Contingent liabilities — unquantifiable

      The "National Broadband Network" (NBN) is getting less attention, with 4 mentions, down from 11 last year. The NBN will be funded for two further years, at which point the built infrastructure will be required to be self supporting.

       Last year the Government "recommitted" to "Remote Indigenous Internet Access", but but without an explicit amount of money committed to the program. This year, apart from the NBN I could not find any similar programs, for indigenous or other communities.

      Last year the Government announced it would save $31.2 M over two years by incorporating the functions of the National Health Information Network (NHIN) into the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system. This year $140.6 million is to be provided in 2014-15 for the PCEHR. This project has not gone well and the Government could have achieved a larger saving, by cancelling the PCEHR.

      The government is bringing forward $500 M for Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, the Romeo Naval anti-submarine combat helicopter and upgraded to Naval Standard Missile-2 anti-aircraft missiles. Unlike some other Defence projects, these have gone relatively well and will provide a useful asset in a time of increased tension in our region.

      The Bureau of Meteorology will get a new supercomputer, over the longer term, at an undisclosed cost. The Department of Education will spend $3.8 M over four years on the Higher Education Information Management System (HEIMS)  for university and higher education data.

      NICTA’s funding, of about $40 M per year for IT research, will end after 2015–16. NICTA has a significant number of PHD students jointly with universities, who presumably continue to be funded.

      Also the Australian Interactive Games Fund will be ended with $10 M not going to game developers.

      Apart from these minor items, there is not much explicitly on IT in the budget. However, the planned changes to government functions will require considerable changes to IT systems, resulting in work for years to come for IT professionals (be they public servants or private contractors).

      Cuts to federal school and hospital funding may also see an increase in demand for new IT systems to reduce costs and increase efficiency, as well as new ways to deliver health and education.

      In addition changes to higher education will also require new IT systems. The deregulation of tuition fees from 2016 will require minimal direct changes. However, there is likely to be a reshuffling of campuses, with some major city universities closing regional campuses.

      The opening financial assistance to students studying diplomas may change the way higher education is delivered in Australia. Students who would have previously enrolled in a bachelors degree at a university, may opt for a shorter and cheaper diploma at a state government TAFE or private Registered Training Organisation (RTO), then top up their education with a part-time blended or fully on-line degree. This will require an expansion of IT systems to support the new education options. Also IT courses are likely to be one of those disciplines most changed.

      However, certificates are not included in the new higher education funding scheme. The shortest program the student can get funding assistance for is a diploma, which normally requires one year full time study. Certificates, which require six months full time study are very useful, as they allow students to quickly get a qualification for a job. Where institutions offer four terms a year, a part time student can do a certificate in one year. I did my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education this way, mostly on-line.


      This year budget web site worked fine at 08:44pm and kept working (in 2010 the system failed at 7:53pm, reporting: "HTTP Error 404 - File or directory not found").

      Each year from 1996 to 2006 the budget web site got better. But by 2007-08 seemed to reached a stable design, also used for 2009/2010, 2010/2011 and 2011/2013, with HTML 4.01 Transitional. The2014/15 site is much the same but using HTML5. The code is mostly clean and efficient. However, I found curious syntax error on the home page, where a hypertext link (on "Transcript of the Treasurer's budget night speech") was not correctly nested (the sort of error a school student should not make, let alone information professionals)

      As happened last year, the home page failed a W3C HTML Markup Validation test, but with a decrease from fourteen to three errors (really just two).

      The home page scored a very poor 0% p(down from 33% last year) on the W3C mobileOK Checker. This is unfortunate, given the  use of smart phones and tablet computers in the last year (and the government plan to lessen funding for broadband). The home page is  The total size of the page 17.9MB, with 17.7MB of images. The problem is 14 background images of about 1 MB each. There is not sensible reason for this. Last year I commented that the size of image files used should be reduced to improve the efficiency of the site, but instead the images files have got stupidly large. It is a little difficult to take a document about reducing government waste serious, which is using more than tens times the amount of resources as needed.

      The budget home page failed a aChecker automated accessibility test (WCAG 2.0 Level AA) but with sixteen known problems (up from five problems last year). These could be easily corrected.

      As introduced last year, important tables in the budget documents are rendered as well formatted HTML tables, not as the blurry image files in previous years. This make it possible to increase the size of the text for easier reading. Also a table can be simply copied into a word processing document with the layout intact, or into a spreadsheet for extra analysis. The headings are marked up in HTML has headings, which should make it much easier for assistive technology to interpret.

      The PDF version of the budget overview has almost halved in size, down from 5 MB last year to 2.7 MB. , but still much smaller than the 16.6Mbytes, the web page quotes. The Budget is released under a a Creative Commons BY Attribution 3.0 Australia licence, in line with open access government policy (commenced 2012/13).

      Comments on past budgets:

      1996 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link9608/0096.html
      1997 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link9705/0315.html
      1998 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link9805/0174.html
      1999 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link9905/0265.html
      2000 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link0005/0358.html
      2002 http://www.anu.edu.au/mail-archives/link/link0205/0318.html
      2004 http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/link/2004-May/056673.html
      2005 http://www.archivum.info/link@mailman.anu.edu.au/2005-05/msg00035.html
      2006 http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/link/2006-May/066486.html
      2007 http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2007/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20072008.html
      2008 http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2008/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20072008.html
      2009 http://blog.tomw.net.au/2009/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20092010.html
      2010 http://blog.tomw.net.au/2010/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20102011.html
      2011 http://blog.tomw.net.au/2011/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20112012.html
      2012 http://blog.tomw.net.au/2012/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20122013.html
      2013 http://blog.tomw.net.au/2013/05/it-matters-of-interest-in-20132014.html

      Budget Papers:
        1. Budget Strategy and Outlook
        2. Budget Measures
        3. Federal Financial Relations
        4. Agency Resourcing
        Also 2014 Federal Budget - ACS Response

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