CSIRO swallows NICTA

NICTA small

It was flagged earlier this year, and now it has happened. NICTA, National Information and Communications Technology Australia, will be merged with CSIRO’s Digital Productivity flagship.

A joint announcement by Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane and Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull said that the two organisations will merge to form a new CSIRO entity called Data61, which they said will be one of the largest digital innovation teams in the world.

NICTA was announced with much fanfare by the Howard government in 2002 as a peak ICT research body to be funded by government. At its height it employed over 700 people, but the Abbott government announced in its first budget that NICTA’s finding would cease next year, and it would need to look to the private sector to finance its operations.

That budget also saw funding for CSIRO cut, by $115 over four years, leading to a 20 per cent reduction in staff.

Despite the budget cuts the two ministers are painting the demise of NICTA as a positive. “CSIRO and NICTA are two world-class research organisations with some of the world’s leading scientists,” said Mr Macfarlane. “Both have an impressive track record in digital innovation and have demonstrated their ability to take home-grown technologies to market.

“Together they will be a force to be reckoned with, creating an internationally-recognised digital research powerhouse that will benefit Australian industry as it reaches into new global markets and seizes new opportunities for jobs and growth.”

Mr Turnbull said a single organisation will have more focus. “It will deliver strong economic returns and ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of digital innovation. The new combined entity will continue to train Australia’s future digital technology leaders through the enhanced PhD program, with more than 300 technology PhDs enrolled at partner universities.”

That’s not what they were saying 13 years ago when NICTA was launched, by the Minister for Communications Senator Richard Alston and the Minister for Science Brendan Nelson. “NICTA will be a world class ICT research organisation with the scale to be globally involved and to have international impact,” they said.

Data61 will be headed by Australian expatriate entrepreneur Adrian Turner. “So much of our understanding and interaction with the world is underpinned by digital technology and data. It is a fast moving and big growth area for Australia and Australian industry, and Data61 will be well-positioned to play a leading role in defining the new economic structures and opportunities that are emerging globally.”

For the past 18 years, Adrian Turner has been based in Silicon Valley, firstly working for global tech giant Phillips then building his own companies. He was formerly co-founder of the Borondi Group, a company that applies emerging technologies in traditionally conservative industries such as agriculture, mining and transportation.

Before that he co-founded smart phone and security company Mocana, where he raised more than $40 million dollars from institutional and corporate investors. He also authored the book BlueSky Mining – Building Australia’s Next Billion Dollar Industries and was chairman of Advance, a networking group for Australian expatriates.


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