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Canberra - world information capital

Keynote Address

ACS Canberra Branch Conference

by Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

At the Australian Science Festival, Saturday, 20 April 1996
Draft of: 20 April 1996


Tom Worthington This is to propose that the Canberra community work now to make us the world leader in application of on-line technology for administration and Government. In this talk I am addressing the members of the Canberra Branch of the ACS, as a Canberra member and as a Canberra citizen.

This time last year

In closing the ACS Canberra Branch Conference last year on Internet and multimedia I drew a connection between 18th century English landscape architecture, the design of the city of Canberra and the information super highway. Canberra is a beautifully city. It looks particularly good on a sunny autumn day, such as this: its parks, gardens and lakes look an Arcadian delight and "natural", but are designed by professionals. Last year I argued that IT professionals should carefully design the information superhighway, to become a "natural" part of our culture.

How can Canberra respond to Federal funding cuts?

There are daily media reports that the new Federal Government is proposing to make deep cuts in funding to Government agencies. While the extent and targeting of the cuts are not clear, it is clear that funding for the Australian Public Service will be significantly reduced. These cuts will likely be spread across agencies throughout Australia, however the burden will fall most heavily on Canberra, because of the concentration of Commonwealth agencies here.

The ACT Government and the community need to consider how to respond, to plan to ensure the economic well being of the region. Whatever the Canberra community may think of these cuts, they are unlikely to be able to prevent them. We need to plan alternative economic activities for Canberra.

A new industry can be built which will service the remaining Government agency activities in Canberra and provide an export market to the rest of Australia and the world. Canberra is uniquely equipped to undertake this role. I propose that we work to build a more efficient public sector, a strong private sector to service it and as a base for an information export industry.

The on-line revolution

While the cuts to Government spending are receiving much media attention, another change in Government activities, which I believe may be more significant is taking place now, very quietly. In the year since the 1995 Canberra conference the Internet has gone from being a fringe activity in the IT industry, to acceptable mainstream IT. The Federal and State Governments are working on the use of the Internet and similar technologies for delivering services to the community and for internal administrative work.

The Australian Computer Society has had a significant role in the introduction of this technology, through submissions to Government committees and development of pilot projects in Canberra. The conference here last year played a significant part in those developments. I have detailed these activities in several conference papers, articles and presentations, which are available on the Internet.

Agencies are now routinely making Government information available to the public via the Internet. Presentation and methods of access for this material are being refined.

The next stage will see the routine internal administrative office work and committee processes move from a paper based technology to on-line. While there has been much written about the "paperless office" in the past, it hasn't happened because of a lack of suitable affordable technology and trained staff. In the last few months the Internet has changed that. At a talk to the ACS SA Branch last month, I described my daily on-line, almost paperless office routine.

Canberra's natural advantage

Canberra has few alternative industries to replace government. We lack exploitable natural resources (apart from those for tourism). What Canberra has in abundance is people trained for the "information industry" of administration of government. We also have a very high concentration of experts in the Information Technology and other information professions, in Government, the private sector and tertiary institutions.

About once a month the "Internet Reality Check" is held at the Hotel Kurrajong. This is an informal drinks session for Internet professionals in Canberra. This informal gathering attracts a group of people who have an international reputation in the field and would be the envy of any of the new hi-tech organisations setting up around the world to exploit the Information Superhighway. An event such as this conference attracts a group of people with expertise and experience in IT of great value to Canberra. I am sure that you would welcome the opportunity to contribute that expertise to help build the Canberra on-line economy.

I propose we harness this natural resource to build the Canberra economy. The cost savings the Government requires can be achieved in ways other than just cutting staff numbers. People can telework, reducing travel and accommodation costs. Activities which required national and international travel can be conducted by electronic conference. Large expensive office buildings can be replaced with small, low cost energy efficient ones.

The private sector of Canberra can be expanded to provide an information infrastructure with goods and service for the Government sector. These companies will design and sell computer applications for Government, consult to Government and undertake work "out-sourced" from Government. These same services will be attractive to Government agencies and large private organisations world wide.

Other states are considering how to address these issues. Recently I visited the South Australian Government, which has an ambitious Information Industry plan. One idea was that the Australian state governments throw off one hundred years of tradition and try and co-operate, rather than compete. Each state could select a particular activity to focus its efforts on. I propose that Canberra select administration through innovation.


Project proposals of this sort are normally developed behind closed doors and take months or years to get to the stage where they are put to some Government funding body for approval. We don't have the time to do that.

My work on recent IT projects in Government and for the ACS shows there are other, more effective ways to undertake such projects.

I propose that ACS members join the Canberra community, via the Internet, in discussing this issue. Government, industry and the community are invited to join the discussion in the general Canberra discussion newsgroup: CANB.GENERAL. Those people and organisations (including government) who see merit in the idea can form suitable groups and start work on its implementation

The title for this talk comes from an article I wrote for Informatics Magazine in September 1993. That article was based on a fictional future scenario I wrote about Canberra in the year 2020, for a conference at the University of Canberra, on Canberra's future. In that article I envisioned Canberra as the capital of the world, based on its pleasant environment and excellent IT infrastructure. I now propose that we implement that vision, at least in part.

Canberra is a beautifully city; its parks, gardens and lakes are laid out to a pattern based on ideas worked out over hundreds of years. Its roads and other infrastructure are placed in that landscape to be both efficient and aesthetic. I propose that as IT professionals we now sensitively weave the information infrastructure of the 2oth Century into that plan: into the social, economic and cultural fabric of Canberra.

One opportunity to promote Canberra as a centre for the information industry is the 14th World Computer Congress to be held here at the National Convention Centre. In September this year I will be welcoming delegates to this event. One theme of the congress is devoted the theme of Government use of IT and was included specifically for Canberra's role in Government. Many members of the ACS Canberra Branch have worked very hard to bring this international event to Canberra. I believe that our ACS colleagues in other parts of Australia will forgive us, if we take the opportunity to promote our local industry on the world stage.

Tom Worthington MACS
ACS President and a Citizen of Canberra

See also:

  • Report on Canberra Branch Conference 1996
  • Canberra Branch Conference 1996
  • Cyber Tour of the world of the Future via the Internet, Australian Science Festival, 21 April 1996
  • Canberra Branch Conference 1995
  • Other talks by the ACS President
  • ACS Home Page
  • Tom Worthington's Home Page

    About the ACS

    The Australian Computer Society is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. It was established in 1966. The Society has over 16,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.

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