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Australia’s IT equation needs sense of balance

AUSTRALIA’S information and communications technology industry is worth more than $100 billion a year and employs 680,000 people, but makes a smaller contribution to the country compared with ICT industries in other nations.

Those are the findings from a report commissioned by the Australian Computer Society released last week. It has found the size of the ICT industry is larger than previous estimates and is growing at more than 17 per cent a year.

ACS president John Ridge said he had underestimated the size of the industry.

“I’d have to say the total size of the industry actually surprised me and people I’ve spoken to within the industry have had the same response,” he said.

“Figures we’ve seen previously have put the total at half that figure. From that perspective it was very interesting for us.”

He said it was important that governments did not under-estimate the industry.

“If we are trying to get an appropriate focus on the industry from a political perspective we needed to get handle on the size of the industry,” Mr Ridge said.

The report found ICT employees were higher paid than those in most industries. In 1998-99, ICT workers were paid an average $51,243 per year, compared with the average Australian salary of just $29,409.

The industry also was responsible for increasing employment by 0.5 per cent per year, and investment by four per cent.

The report also revealed Australia was among the most intensive users of information and communications technology in the developed world, ranking fourth behind Sweden, New Zealand and the UK with the US fifth.

However, Australia is behind the rest of the world in terms of the impact of ICT. In the US, computer hardware has increased labour productivity growth by 38 per cent and software by 10.5 per cent.

In comparison, computer hardware in Australia has only contributed to 18 per cent growth and software 12 per cent.

Mr Ridge said Australia was lagging behind other developed nations and both state and federal governments must boost investment in ICT.

“The figures show that Australia is lagging behind and I think there is an opportunity for governments at all levels to take a counter-cyclical approach,” he said.

“Instead of tightening the belts or looking to take a negative view during this economic downturn, if we put more investment into technology and IT then, firstly, we are going to stimulate the jobs market and we are going to be in a better place for Australian companies to take advantage of opportunities that are presented when the economy turns around.”

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