The Queensland Opposition has accused the incumbent Bligh Labor State Government of hitting the “panic button” in a belated attempt to enter “catch-up mode” when it comes to technology policy, with a state election looming on the horizon.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh this week flagged plans to significantly enhance the powers of the state’s whole of government chief information officer, with a hiring process being kicked off to find an executive to lead a new independent office of the CIO with a significantly enhanced brief.
The move represents the second time in three years that Queensland has enhanced its CIO role, with a succession of public servants filling the seat. It comes as a a series of IT disasters have rocked the State Government over the succeeding years. The most public of these has been the Queensland Health payroll debacle, which resulted in thousands of public sector health workers going without pay after the department’s upgrade to a new SAP-based payroll system was botched, but many of the state’s other major IT projects have also overrun their budget and been delayed.
In a statement issued following a speech by Bligh outlining the changes to an IT industry lunch, Shadow ICT Minister Ros Bates said the Liberal-National Party had long been calling for “someone to take charge” and sort out “the many crises dogging the Bligh Government’s ICT”.
“Whilst imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Labor’s delayed move proves the out-of-touch Bligh government has run out of ideas,” said Bates. “This incompetent government has had two long decades to get on top of Information and Communication Technology, but it’s one area where they have had repeated catastrophic and expensive failures,” she said.
“Already the Health fiasco has blown out to $220 million and will only get worse. 80,000 Queensland Health workers have for 18 months been screaming out for improved government computer systems. The new ‘smart’ Queensland driver’s licence budget has also exploded from $50 million to $150 million.”
Bates said the new CIO would certainly face some major challenges, especially with “less than a year” before the next election.
“However, it’s more likely this is just another cynical Labor political ploy, window-dressing to shift blame away from incompetent Minister Simon Finn to a faceless public servant, instead of the Bligh government being made accountable for their own negligence and incompetence,” the MP added. ““It is too little too late and another Labor knee jerk reaction to another Bligh government debacle of their own making.”
The Opposition isn’t the only group in Queensland to have questioned the State Government’s technology credentials.
Bruce Mills, the joint chief executive of 3W IT Consulting and Contracting, who is active in a number of industry associations, published a number of questions on his blog this week after Bligh’s speech, focusing on links between the Australian Information Industry Association, which represents a number of technology companies in Australia, both large and small.
“Does the Queensland Government and in particular the ICT Minister [Simon Finn] think the AIIA is the association that represents ALL of the QLD ICT industry?” asked Mills.
“A recent blog by [Peter Carr, the chief of Queensland analyst firm Longhaus] entitled “When Associations drift too close to government” highlighted the problem that can occur when government and industry are too close. I personally think that this is the case with AIIA and Minister Finn. It concerns me when the Minister publicly states, that he has been entertaining AIIA State Board Members at his Corporate Box for the Gold Coast Suns.”
“Then remarkably the AIIA is given $172K to promote broadband awareness. I wonder was this the best that AIIA could negotiate to represent our industry AND were any other organisations approached to do this? Was this put out to tender or was it a back room deal?”
Mills also questioned the ability of the planned new state CIO to influence a dozen different major state government agencies, “when past CIOs were unable to”.
Software Queensland, which also represents local technology firms in the state, has also heavily criticised the State Government on the issue of ICT recently. Mills is also associated with the group as a board member.
The chairman of Software Queensland, John Vickers, ripped into the State Government a little over a week ago, in a fiery speech, telling the state’s IT Minister to stop attending meetings of a joint working group and lambasting Queensland’s public sector project management, while highlighting the efforts of industry figures such as PIPE Networks founder Bevan Slattery, a “money making machine”.