​Australia well placed to leverage Asia's innovation success: Julie Bishop

Australia's foreign minister has said the future success of the nation's economy will be measured by its ability to work with Asian neighbours and adapt to an ever-changing innovation landscape.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

In addition to the United States being a global economic and strategic leader for the rest of the world, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop believes it is a leader when it comes to ideas and innovation.

Speaking at Australia's Asian Future Summit 2017 in Sydney on Friday, Bishop said having an agile, adaptive economy should be the message the rest of the world, including Australia, takes away from the US.

"Adapt and thrive, and innovate or die," she said.

According to Bishop, Australia has opportunity in the industries it has always thrived in. However, when it comes to new technology-based opportunities, she said Australia is well placed take advantage of the successes of its Asian neighbours to bring something to the table that complements what its allies can do.

"We are seeing a transformation in Asia, in particular going away from being a region for low-cost manufacturing -- making cheap goods for the rest of the world -- to becoming a major source of global consumers," she explained.

Bishop said the fastest-growing areas in Asia are in advanced manufacturing, robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI).

"I'm very excited about the opportunities that presents for Australia, because we are an innovative country full of ideas, we're prepared to take risks, but as that consumer population, our consumer class increases in Asia, we're ideally placed to continue to be a commodities exporter ... Australia has a great deal to offer the region," she added.

"But we also have to be ready to innovate, particularly as it's estimated that something like one third of the jobs today will be replaced by robots and software and other technological advances."

As a result of the technological advances shaking up the way Australians live, work, and interact, Bishop said the nation will need to be "very innovative" and prepared to adapt, because if the country does, she believes it will work "very well" for Australia.

Also speaking on Friday, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O'Dwyer labelled Australia a success story when it comes to innovation, pointing to the country's strengths in the research, science, and medical sectors in particular.

"A lot of the time when people hear the word innovation, they think it's something that doesn't relate to them, or, if it relates to them, it does so in a negative way; whereas in fact innovation is something that happens every day," she said.

"We see businesses innovating every day, improving their processes in order to do an even better job -- and that's really what the focus is when we talk about an innovation agenda and how we can do things even better."

With a portfolio representing the financial services sector and the emerging finance technology -- or fintech -- sector, O'Dwyer said she would like to see Australia exporting more than it does at present to its neighbours in the greater Asia region.

"I would like to see us exporting our financial expertise -- we really punch above our weight here in Australia," she added. "There's a huge market for us in the region that is only going to grow and expand."

With Australia's future in Asia the theme of the summit, Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said the success of the nation lies with businesses and their willingness to empower the customer.

"The strongest markets are the markets where the customer is the strongest," he said. "And that doesn't matter if it's superannuation, telecommunications, utilities, electricity, gas, banking; in all of those markets, we want to see the customer liberated."

By 2018, banks in the United Kingdom will be required to open up their APIs to enable consumer data to be accessed by competing banks, startups, and other financial institutions -- providing the consumer consents. This is a move the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics is eager to see implemented in Australia.

A report from the committee, tabled in November, recommended that banks be forced to provide open access for third parties to customer and small business data by July 2018.

The data would be wrapped in security and privacy protections, and would include information on a customer's transaction history, account balances, credit card usage, and mortgage repayments.

Throughout the banking probe, committee chair and federal Member for Banks David Coleman touted the initiative as an important measure that not only provides more control to the consumer, but one that has the potential to make a strong contribution to the country's economic growth.

The federal government took this on board, announcing in July that it is looking into implementing an open banking system regime, having announced that it is seeking advice from law firm King & Wood Mallesons on how to boost competition and innovation in financial services.

Morrison said on Friday it is an initiative that will change Australia's economy.

"One of the biggest changes we can make, which links into the broader technology in this space, is consumer data rights and the Productivity Commission -- that is one of the big rocks in the jar for really lifting Australia's productivity over the next 20 years, and that is giving customers control of their information," he said.

"That is the building block that every fintech, that every technology company -- every company -- needs to be able to find a better deal and deliver a better service.

"That will change our economy."

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