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"Who Webs Wins? - Military Internet and the Future of Canberra"

by: Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

Internet Reality Check

6pm, Friday 2 May 1997, National Press Club, Canberra

V1.2 - 2 May 1997

Tom Worthington Yesterday I stood down as the first Web Master, of a large government agency, after two years in the job. I thought it a good time to celebrate the past and contemplate an uncertain future, both for myself, and for IT in Australia.

I will show you some photos from my inspection of the Internet based C4I system on the USS Blue Ridge and talk about how we might develop an information industry in Canberra. How are these topics related? The same techniques and technology being used on the US 7th Fleet's flagship to run military operations can be used to run the Government, or a company. We have the expertise in Canberra to develop an industry based on providing that technology and training. My research indicates that informal forums such as this IRC form an important part of how such industries are built. Government policies for industry development do not recognise this and hinder industry development.

Establishing a Government Agency Home Page

The agency's home page was established in March 1995 as a pilot project and I have spent much of the last few years establishing the policy and procedures, advocating of the use of the Internet by Government. More than half a million files were downloaded in April from the server and the relevant Minister authorised the release of a major review of the agency on-line. The project is out of the pilot phase and I have handed it over to the public relations area to run. The next challenge I see is how to use the Internet for internal business operations. But if I will be looking at that in government, in business or academia, I don't know.

ACS Internet service March 1994

In this room, three years ago, on the 17th March 1994 the Canberra Branch of the Australian Computer Society inaugurated its Internet service for members. The service was launched by Mr. David Lamont, a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, representing the ACT Government. The service was described in the media release as providing 'access to the developing "super data-highway"'.

The evening's keynote address was given by Mr. Peter Saalmans, General Manager of the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet). The Chairman of the Canberra Branch of the Australian Computer Society, Mr. Peter Talty welcomed the ACT Government's support for the ACS Internet launch:

"Canberra is truly the data networking capital of Australia. The 17 largest networks in Australia are Canberra based. There is more telecom traffic in and out of Canberra than any other Australian city. The ACS's Canberra members will continue to support the strong growth of IT industries in Canberra and make it a central hub in Australia's data-highways."

Much has changed since then, much has been done, but many opportunities lost.

Talk of "super data-highways" now sounds quaint. The Internet has been so succeful that it is the super data-highway. AARNet was so successful it became the core of the Internet in Australia, as Telstra's Internet service. The Universities are now building AARnet-2.

Peter Talty went on to expand the ACS Canberra Internet service into a national service: "ACSlink". He was instrumental in convincing people in the Australian Public Service that this technology could be used by Government. Many of those who had learnt from ACSlink then helped build the Government Internet service.

Opportunities Lost By Government

However, there have been some disappointments. ACT Governments, both Liberal and Labour, have over the last three years squandered the opportunities the IT has offered the people of Canberra. Other Australian Governments have acted. Most recently the Tasmanian government listened and acted.

Federal Governments, both Coalition and Labour have shown vision. Ministers have been willing, after we proved the value of the Internet, to endorse its use. However, with the proposals for rapid out-sourcing of Government IT an opportunity for industry expansion is now in danger of being lost.

The current Federal Government proposes to out-source IT at such a rate and on such a scale that few Australian companies can participate. This is in the belief that this will save money and promote development. However, I do not believe that a case has been made it will save money or promote the Australian IT industry.

There is a place for out-sourcing, on a case-by-case basis, at a rate and scale Australian industry and agencies can take advantage of.

Politicians, like all of us, prefer a few large, impressive sounding initiatives to solve our problems. However, the world rarely works that way. In IT development it certainly does not work that way.

DIY Industry Development from a Small Scale

IT innovation and wealth creation for Canberra and for Australia will not come from selling off our Government IT wholesale to those who live in another country and have little interest in the future of Australia. It will come from small, local start-up companies, owned and operated by people who live here, like it here and have an interest in making innovation work. A few of those companies will grow to world to world prominence. Many will go broke. Enough will prosper on a modest scale to make a major contribution to the economy.

On past experience I do not expect most Federal and ACT Government politicians to listen to this argument, understand it or act on it. Learning from that experience I propose that those of us with an interest in the future of IT in Australia do what we did with the Internet: simply get on and do it.

I ask just this of our political leaders: if you do not have the confidence in the skills and dedication of Australians, particularly the young Australians, to build an Australian IT industry, then please get out of the way and allow those of us who do to get on with it.

Australian IT professionals, informally and through bodies such as the Australian Computer Society, should lead and direct the industry. We can continue to make representations to Governments on industry development, but can't wait for Government to decide. We must take more direct action: to the business community and the general community.

See also:
By Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society.
Note: This information is no longer being updated but has been retained for reference.