Splits have appeared in the Australian government's position on offshoring Australian public sector IT jobs.
The prime minister's office has refused to support comments made by trade minister Mark Vaile and communications and IT minister Helen Coonan backing the practice.
The prospect of the government potentially offshoring thousands of public sector IT jobs arose following comments made by Vaile at the launch of a research paper on India at foreign relations think-tank the Lowy Institute on 13 August.
On Monday evening, when asked whether the prime minister supported the position of Coonan and Vaile, a spokesman said "no comment".
Vaile is reported to have said he was sure government tenders were open to overseas competition and that it was unrealistic for Australia to expect to compete for overseas tenders without opening its own doors.
Asked whether he could verify the offshoring comments, a spokesman for Vaile said IT services were not an area of intimate familiarity to the trade portfolio, adding he would prefer to check recordings of the Lowy Institute speech.
However, a spokesperson for Coonan said that "trying to somehow freeze Australia in time, locking out the rest of the world, is the worst kind of knee-jerk protectionism".
The spokesperson added, "The government has to strike a balance between getting value for money and promoting local industry. Offshoring is not a one-way street. There are great opportunities for Australia to win jobs in the offshore outsourcing market, as shown by a recent KPMG 2004 Competitive Alternatives Study, which has ranked Australia as the best place in the developed world to base software development operations."
The spokesperson said there were no laws or policies banning the offshoring of public sector IT jobs, except where concerns about security and privacy precluded it.
Julian Bajkowski writes for the IDG News Service