Canberra claims work to boost Australia's digital economy is underway

The government's response comes more than a year after the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment put forward its recommendations.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Australian government has released its response to the report into the trade and digital economy more than a year after it was released by the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment.

In its response, the government said it "supports the direction" of all 11 recommendations that were made by the committee, with six of the recommendations it supports in full and the remaining five "in principle".

The government noted that as part of showing its support, it has started to carry out some of the work that was recommended by the committee, such as the release of a whole-of-government digital economy strategy at the end of last year. The strategy detailed how Australia would maximise the opportunities of technological change through policies focused on people, services, and digital assets.

The response also highlighted the work the Australian government has been doing around promoting digital trade standards through free trade agreements with the likes of Peru, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, while also working with the New Zealand government to implement a common approach to electronic invoicing.

On the committee's recommendation for the Australian government to ensure all Commonwealth agencies comply with the Australian Signals Directorate's Essential Eight cybersecurity and resilience mitigation strategies, the government said it is working with all agencies to improve their cybersecurity maturity.

The response also outlined how the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Cyber Security Centre have been taking "more proactive steps" to establish behaviours that would lift agencies' cybersecurity behaviour.

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Assistance is also being provided to Australian small and medium-sized businesses to improve their cybersecurity awareness and resilience levels, the response said. As an example, it pointed to the AU$26 million commitment the Australian government announced to support the Australian Cyber Security Centre to both develop online training programs and expand the 24/7 cyber hotline to include a dedicated help desk for small and medium-sized businesses, older Australians, and families.

"The Australian government will continue to look at new ways to improve cybersecurity awareness for all Australians and ensure that it leads to behavioural change on cyber security," the response said.

The government has also taken on board the committee's recommendation for the Australian government to support a permanent moratorium on duties for data flow.

"It has been the Australian government's long-standing position to support a permanent moratorium on customs duties and to advocate this position in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) … The Australian government believes the moratorium acts as a driver for growth in e-commerce as it maintains liberalising trading outcomes and provides predictability for businesses and consumers," the response stated.

However, when it comes to the committee's call for a single window to be developed, the committee wants the focus to be on interoperability as this would ensure rich data flows are maintained and transmitted across borders. While the Australian government is committed to a single window for physical goods, it said a future single window for digital goods and services would not be relevant because they are not currently subject to customs treatment at borders.

The government added that in a move to fund and upskill the existing workforce so they can participate in the digital economy, AU$156 million over four years has been allocated for a skills package for apprentices and trainees during the 2019-20 Budget.

The response also went on to detail how the government believes it already considers the needs of the future workforce when it comes to designing policies around the country's education system.

"The Australian government is committed to ensuring Australia's education and training system remains well-functioning in supplying industry skills needs," it stated.

"Australia already produces a wealth of reliable information about the labour market and takes account of this when shaping policies, including education and training policies, to reduce skills imbalances. The Australian government is developing a framework for forecasting long-term skills needs including digital skills, to help prepare Australians for the changing labour market."

In its response, the Australian government added it would continue to promote digital trade standards by promoting digital rules and standards by leading efforts at the WTO to establish an agreement that specifically governs digital trade, and engaging in multilateral economic bodies including the OECD, G20 and APEC, to advocate for digital trade rules to be developed.

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