Conroy launches new digital strategy; reviews startup barriers

Promises to place the “vast majority” of government services online by the end of 2017

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has launched a new strategy for Australia to become a “leading” digital economy by 2020.

The Advancing Australia as a Digital Economy – An Update to the National Digital Economy Strategy includes 24 actions the federal government will take to achieve the goal, setting a target of 80 per cent of Australians to engage with government online by 2020.

“Under this policy, digital channels will become the primary means of delivery of government services,” Conroy said at the launch of the policy on Wednesday.

Initiatives of the strategy include having a “vast majority” of government services online by the end of 2017.

It also includes a review into crowd-sourced equity funding (CSEF) in Australia for startups in relation to corporations law.

Startups typically use CSEF in the early stages of seed capital to allow investors to provide capital through platforms such as crowdsourcing website, Kickstarter.

It is not currently regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), with the review to examine whether current corporations law effectively regulates CSEF and whether international models can provide “guidance”.

The review is expected by April 2014.

The government will also undertake a review into employee share schemes (ESS), which allow startups to provide shares in the business to employees as part of their salary package and examine taxation issues and how to reduce the administrative burden of developing an ESS.

The report is due by December this year.

“Governments can’t go and build the next Twitter, Instagram or 99Designs, but we can provide the infrastructure and the environment to help Australians who will,” Conroy said.

Conroy also revealed a new curriculum for school students that will include subjects on digital technologies and design technologies to be taught to students from year 8, which is expected to be finalised by the end of this year.

The federal government will provide funding to National ICT Australia to develop programs that promote ICT careers to students and provide funding for the national expansion of Queensland organisation Group X, an ICT initiative that encourages young peoples’ involvement in the industry.

The government will also embark on an Australian Public Service Mobile Roadmap to encourage government agencies to use technology to provide mobile services to citizens.

“Under Digital First, Commonwealth agencies will be required to expand key services to smartphones and tablet users as well,” Conroy said.

The federal government will also implement video-consultation capabilities for an after-hours GP Helpline and the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline, which will be rolled out from the second half of this year.

The Digital Enterprise and Local Government programs, which provide support to small businesses, not-for-profit organisations and local government to utilise technology, will be expanded.

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Conroy said the government would also continue to adapt community satellite phones to provide free Wi-Fi access to remote Indigenous communities.

The federal government plans to release a big data strategy this year and is working on a national strategy to combat cybercrime to be released mid-2013.

Conroy also previously announced a national cloud computing strategy to boost the adoption of cloud services and promote the cloud services sector in Australia.

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