The Australian Information Industry Association has called on the next New South Wales government to allocate $1.6 billion through a rebranded Digital Restart Fund over four years to “cement” the state’s position as a digital leader.
The fund, which would be known as the Digital Maturity Fund, would replace the dwindling but “successful” $2.2 billion Digital Restart Fund that was introduced in 2019, according to the peak body’s pre-election platform statement.
As reported by InnovationAus.com, the flagship digital fund has less than $150 million remaining for new projects as no new funding was contained in last year’s state Budget, despite the pleas of retiring Customer Service and Digital Government minister Victor Dominello.
Around $1.95 billion has been doled out through the fund since mid-2020, namely in smaller, agile increments, to digital projects, including cybersecurity uplifts, at a number of government agencies.
The AIIA said a new Digital Maturity Fund should be used to “build digital and data capability in government, climate and sustainability, and cyber security to support the most pressing challenges in government and continue to stimulate the NSW economy including startups”.
“New South Wales has invested wisely with the money that they had, so we’re calling for the $1.6 billion to be continued with a [Digital Maturity Fund],” AIIA chief executive Simon Bush told InnovationAus.com.
Platforms across government, including licensing, grants and websites, should continue to receive funding, but the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning by agencies is a specific area of interest for the peak body.
“It’s important that the fund is not just seen as an opportunity for a Budget landgrab for government agencies to fund pet projects. There really needs to be strategic oversight and… [that the money] is not just being used for business as usual,” Mr Bush said.
The pre-election statement also calls on the incoming government to reintroduce the Delivery and Performance Committee (DaPCo), which was tasked with reviewing the digital and data merits of new projects and allocating funding from the DRF.
The Cabinet sub-committee was introduced when the Department of Customer Service was created by the Berejiklian government following the 2019 election. It replaced several other committees covering infrastructure, advertising and social policy.
Last year, the committee was quietly shut down by the Perrotett government and replaced with the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee (CIC) chaired by Cities and Infrastructure minister Rob Stokes, as reported by InnovationAus.com
“[DaPCo] gave the minister a really good way to sit down with the Treasurer and the Premier… to then allocate how that money was spent, so that quick decisions could be made from the top,” Mr Bush said.
Mr Bush added that leadership and oversight both at the ministerial and agency level, enabled by governance structures like DapCo, has been instrumental to New South Wales remaining at the forefront of the digital transformation of government.
Procurement transparency is another area that required improvement, with the AIIA urging the incoming government to report on and enforce all seven recommendations of the NSW Sovereign Procurement Taskforce.
Last year, the government fell short of its goal of spending 30 per cent of its annual technology procurement budget with local small to medium-sized enterprises. The data was released six months after the end of the financial year.
The AIIA also wants the cost of tendering for government work to be reduced through “smart, data driven procurement” models that build on the Innovation Procurement Pathway introduced by the Department of Customer Service.
It has also asked for a NSW Regional Tech Hub Strategy to be developed to “drive tech talent in country areas” and, in tangent with the Critical Communications Enhancement Program and NSW Connectivity Strategy, improve regional connectivity
Other recommendations contained in the pre-election platform statement include the government continuing to take a national leadership position in digital identity uptake, which the Opposition has already shown interest in, and a review of the Service NSW platform akin to the myGov Audit.
“The AIIA is offering this platform to the new government, whichever party might lead our state, to ensure that the state continues to be leader in digital investment, “ the document states.
“It is time for New South Wales to cement and elevate its role as a leading digital state, as a safe, vibrant and economically strong society that is also socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.”
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