​Austrade, Data61 to promote Australian blockchain talent in New York

Australia will be sending 26 representatives to Consensus 2017 in New York later this month to showcase what the nation has to offer in blockchain technology.

Australia's blockchain capabilities and technologies will be showcased to global players in the United States next week, in a delegation sent to Consensus 2017 in New York.

Facilitated by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), the mission is backed by Data61 and the state governments of New South Wales and Victoria, with the support of the Australian Digital Currency and Commerce Association.

According to Nicola Watkinson, Austrade's senior trade and investment commissioner for North America, the 26-member delegation will be given a platform to profile Australia as a global leader in the testing and development of blockchain technology and standards.

The Consensus event draws industry startups, investors, financial institutions, and academic and policy groups in a bid to build the foundations of the blockchain and digital currency economy.

The Austrade-sponsored group will be presenting solutions that includes digital currencies, payments, agricultural supply chains, smart contracts, and identity management, Watkinson said.

"Australia is well positioned to provide global leadership and has become a pioneer in proof-of-concept and adoption of blockchain technologies," she added. "Australian financial institutions, in particular, stand in a globally competitive position."

The trip to the US follows the announcement made last week by the federal government that it will be aligning the GST treatment of digital currency, including Bitcoin, with regular money as of July 1, 2017.

The announcement to remove the double taxation on digital currencies was made as part of the government's 2017-18 Budget and aims to promote the growth of Australia's fintech industry.

Australian corporates are also embracing blockchain technology. In October, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, in partnership with Wells Fargo and Brighann Cotton, claimed the first interbank trade transaction combining blockchain technology, smart contracts, and the IoT.

In addition, a project using a shared, distributed ledger that can store complete transaction history has almost been completed by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

The exchange recently said its blockchain initiative is on track for a final decision in the second half of 2017, with the prototype complete and the organisation moving to build an "industrial-strength solution" to use as its equity settlement, asset registration, and clearing platform. Its broader plan is to become the first exchange in the world to upgrade to post-trade services using the technology.

ASX group executive for operations Tim Hogben also said recently that blockchain is ideally suited for securely recording medical health information.

Similarly, the Sydney Stock Exchange (SSX) announced a project recently that would see it instantly settle trades using blockchain technology with the help of Sydney-based Bit Trade Labs.

Australia's incumbent telco carrier Telstra also announced in September it was experimenting with a combination of blockchain and biometric security for its IoT smart home offerings.

"All four major Australian banks have blockchain innovation programs that have already delivered successful proofs of concept," said Nicholas Giurietto, chief executive of the Australian Digital Currency and Commerce Association, who will also be heading to New York with the blockchain delegation.

"Commercial deployment of a blockchain-based solution by one or more players in the finance sector is likely within the next 12 months."

Standards Australia was charged with managing the secretariat of an international technical committee for the development of blockchain standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in September.

Along with 16 ISO member bodies including Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Estonia, Japan, and South Korea, Australia will facilitating the development of ISO/TC 307 Blockchain and electronic distributed ledger technologies.

The initiative saw Australia host the first international blockchain standards meeting for ISO/TC 307 in April. The non-government standards body published a Roadmap [PDF] in March aiming to identify the various technical issues associated with developing, governing, and utilising blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLT), among other things.

ZDNet revealed in March that fintech startups and financial institutions looking to develop blockchain or DLT in Australia may be required to meet regulatory requirements laid out by eight separate government bodies.

Currently, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, and the Digital Transformation Agency all hold certain regulatory powers over the country's financial services sector and its use of blockchain.

Some of these regulatory organisations also have working groups, such as one led by the RBA and the Council of Financial Regulators -- which includes members from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre -- that are also considering implications and regulatory requirements of DLT for the financial system in Australia.

Consultancy firms and analysts such as Deloitte have also weighed in on what they see as the opportunities and implications of blockchain in Australia.

Austrade's New York delegation follows a similar initiative facilitated in February by Watkinson that saw 32 delegates showcase Australia's cybersecurity capabilities and researchers at the RSA Conference.

Led by Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Alastair MacGibbon and CEO of the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network Craig Davies, the delegation met with US-based companies including Dell, Cisco, Google, Juniper Networks, Symantec, Visa, Salesforce, and venture capital firm TAL Global Corporation, as well as Amadeus Capital Ventures (UK) and others, to show off Australia's cyber talent.

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