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Government denies NICTA is facing the axe

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 | By Oliver Milman

The federal government has denied that National ICT Australia, the nation’s flagship IT research and innovation program, is to be killed off despite referring to the “phasing out” of the scheme in last night’s budget.


The budget paper submission by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy showed that the ICT Centre of Excellence, which funds NICTA, will see its funding drop from $22.5 million to $21.4 million in 2014-15 before having its funding ended under its current agreement.


The paper states: “Total program expenses decrease in 2013-14 and across the forward years reflecting reductions in funding and phasing out of the Digital Productivity, ICT Centre of Excellence and Regional Telecommunications Review Response – Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme programs.”


Despite referring explicitly to the “phasing out” of the ICT program in its budget papers, the department has rebuffed StartupSmart’s story that the scheme will actually end.


A spokesperson for Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister, says: “This article is incorrect. NICTA is funded in the budget for the 13/14 and 14/15 financial years, with future funding to be considered in the context of next year’s budget.”


“The government has a long-standing history of support for NICTA and the groundbreaking research and innovation it undertakes. “


In 2010, the government pledged additional $185.5 million in funding for NICTA, to allow it to operate until 2015.


Although no further funding has been announced to extend the lifespan of the scheme, with the budget papers pointing to its demise, NICTA said it wasn’t going to be scrapped.


A spokesperson for the innovation hub says: “No new funding was expected to be announced in last night's statement.”


“NICTA still has over two more years of funding under the existing four year program and continues to receive strong support across government and Parliament. We are in ongoing discussions about funding beyond the current term.”


NICTA, which was established in 2002, has more than 600 researchers that work on advancing Australia’s digital economy and helping build tech start-ups.


As well as federal funding, the scheme is backed by most state governments, although the Queensland government ditched its funding last year. Several universities, such as the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne, also back NICTA.