Submission Regarding NOIE's Preliminary Statement
'Towards an Australian Strategy for the Information Economy'

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Version of 28 October 1998

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1998

This documented was prepared for submission to the National Office of the Information Economy, in response to its Preliminary Statement: 'Towards an Australian Strategy for the Information Economy' of July 1998

This document is at


Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd is the vehicle for Roger Clarke, a consultant who specialises in strategic and policy aspects of electronic commerce, information infrastructure, and dataveillance and privacy matters. Some of his publications of particular relevance to this matter are listed at the end of this submission.

General Comments

The emergence of a global information infrastructure has created opportunities and threats. The nation's response to them will largely determine its role in the twenty-first century world economy.

In a democracy, a national response is a complex of actions by multiple governments, many private sector organisations, and many community organisations. Hence the Commonwealth Government cannot expect to play a straightforward leadership role; but it is critical that the Commonwealth, through NOIE, provide stimulation, an intellectual framework within which discussions and debate can take place, and co-ordination. The appropriate roles of government in relation to information infrastructure matters are examined in greater detail at Clarke (1994).

The strategy document, in its preliminary form of July 1998, represents a starting-point. Unfortunately, the document falls well short of satisfying the national need. The remainder of this submission outlines matters that the next phase of the programme needs to address.


It is important that basic terminology is being used consistently by all parties, and that the precepts on which the discussion is intended to proceed are clear.

The following actions are needed:

1. Provide references to background documents, preferably by means of a set of annotated links and references to hard-copy documents, on a maintained web-page. This should accommodate and identify tensions and differences in interpretation and aspiration, rather than obscuring or downplaying them.

2. Directly address the scope of the information economy, through discussion of key terms such as information economy and information society; knowledge business, virtual organisation and globalisation; electronic business, commerce, trading, service delivery and publishing; and physical and digital goods and services;

3. Express the scope of the initiative in graphical form, preferably in a single diagram that is legible when reproduced in A4 format.

Process and Product Issues

Although the document nominally distinguishes mission, principles, priorities, objectives and actions, there is in practice considerable confusion among them.

The following actions are needed:

1. Provide clearer distinction among the process to produce the strategy, the elements of the strategy, the intended outcomes of the strategy, and the plan to implement the strategy;

2. Clarify the processes whereby the strategy is to come into being, including identification of stakeholder groups, representation of those groups, what the existing and new fora are through which the process is to be progressed, the procedures whereby the fora are expected to deal with relevant matters, and how co-ordination is to be achieved among the many strands of activity;

3. Segregate the initiative from policies of the Commonwealth Government. The process of strategy development must be multi-partite, among many participants, including multiple governments, research and policy agencies of multiple governments, industry associations, corporations, consumer associations, and segments of the general public. Important though the policies and actions of the Commonwealth Government are, it would be to the serious detriment of the initiative if they were inextricably embedded in the foundation document;

4. Ensure that the initiative is perceived to 'belong' to the nation, and is not an exclusive preserve of the Commonwealth Government and its agencies. It is vital that NOIE's additional resources web-page (which is valuable) be extended as soon as possible, to include resources provided by agencies of State Governments, industry associations, corporations, research institutions, community groups and private citizens.

Substantive Content

There are many points of detail on which the document is incomplete or inconsistent, or where the approach adopted is unsatisfactory.

The following are important:

1. Provide greater care and precision in the explanation of how EC is a growth driver, together with identification of risks, and of side-effects that may need to be ameliorated.

2. Provide consistent treatment of the dual role of individuals as consumers and producers (e.g. 'participation' not 'consumption'; and 'usage' not 'access');

3. Demonstrate more clearly the linkage between the information society and the information economy, especially showing how the acquisition of personal and group skills enhances the performance of individuals as consumers, as citizens, as (dependent, inflexible) employees, as (independent, flexible) contractors, and as new-business starters;

4. Reduce the hyperbole about 'diminishing distance';

5. Develop the important parallel theme that 'location matters';

6. Re-phrase the segments relating to awareness activities, to ensure that they are targeted at an outcome of adaptation in people's mind-sets;

7. Consistently work through the training and the education themes, including attention to the catch-phrases 'learning-to-learn', 'teaching-and-learning' and 'self-education', and to the questions of educational infrastructure, and incentivation for education;

8. Adapt the several arguments relating to regulation and self-regulation, in order to achieve consistency among them;

9. Provide greater clarity and detail regarding information infrastructure, and hence improved focus on the key infrastructural issues, including regional concerns;

10. Directly address equity issues, including geography, education, language and physical disabilities;

11. Increase the emphasis on issues in information policy and information management;

12. Provide more detail concerning standards-setting fora, and means of influencing them.

Some Relevant Publications

'A Primer on Internet Technology' Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd (February 1988, with Gillian Dempsey, Ooi Chuin Nee and Robert F. O'Connor)

`What's Holding Up EC in Australia?' Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd (August 1997)

`Promises and Threats in Electronic Commerce' Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd (August 1997)

'Encouraging Cyberculture' CAUSE in Australasia '97, Melbourne (March 1997)

'Issues in Technology-Based Consumer Transactions' Proc. Conf. Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP), Melbourne (September 1996)

'The Strategic Significance for Business and Government of Information Infrastructure and Technoculture' Proc. Conf. East Asian Conf. on Infrastructure for the 21st Century, Kuala Lumpur (May 1995)

'The Australian Information Infrastructure: Economic and Policy Issues' Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd (November 1994)

'The Information Age as Threat', Address to the Round Table on 'Public Access to Networked Information', National Scholarly Communications Forum, Canberra (October 1994)

'Information Infrastructure Policy Issues' Policy 10,3 (Spring 1994)

`Vision for a Networked Nation: The Public Interest in Network Services' Proc. Conf. Int'l Telecomms Soc., Sydney (May 1994, with T. Worthington), a contribution to the debate which resulted in the official publication 'Networked Nation'

'Data Interchange and International Competitiveness' Business Council of Australia Newsletter, April 1992 (September 1992).


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Created: 28 October 1998

Last Amended: 28 October 1998

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