Canberra's tech report provides obvious digital outcomes

The 50-page document highlights what outcomes could be achieved, but misses the mark on how exactly it's going to make them happen.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has finally released its report on how to prepare Australia for the future, focusing solely on how the country can leverage technology to not fall further behind its OECD peers than it already is.

The report, Australia's Tech Future: Delivering a strong, safe and inclusive digital economy [PDF], is introduced by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews, who says in her foreword that the document "sets out the opportunities and the challenges in maximising the benefits on offer".

What the report that took a few years to be published does is mention what certain outcomes could be, but it fails to provide any true direction or tangible initiatives.

It does, however, include case studies of work already underway, mostly following on from when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull initially launched the country's innovation agenda in December 2015.

The government believes Australia can maximise the opportunities of technological change by focusing on six key areas under four headers: People, through developing digital skills; delivering digital services to citizens; building infrastructure and providing access to high-quality data; and also cybersecurity measures and reviews of the country's regulator systems.


'Key Themes' of Australia's Tech Future report

The strategy also rattles off a number of industries in Australia that could benefit from "emerging" technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things, and quantum computing.

The federal opposition was not kind with its response to the report, with a joint statement from Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic and Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland labelling it more like a promotional brochure than a serious strategy.

"Releasing it -- and its small business digital engagement plans -- so late in the year suggests the government is more interested in ticking off a long-avoided item on its to-do list, as opposed to developing a serious strategy to drive the digital economy," Husic said.

Under the chapter of people and the idea of building skills, the report recommends workers identify areas where they can upskill themselves and says that businesses should throw more money at skills training.

The chapter on people also says that having smart people in the country will attract international technology-driven investment. It also said that further jobs can be created through the adoption of technology.

"This is an opportunity for Australia to leverage our highly educated and digitally literate workforce and build capability in a broad range of technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things," the report says.

"This capability can help grow existing industries and develop exciting new ones."

See: AustCyber to figure out what 'cyber skills' actually are

To make this dream a reality, the government is "working collaboratively with industry and the education sector to deliver broad reforms to the education and training systems so that Australians can build skills and adapt quickly as opportunities change".

It also lists a handful of initiatives -- including the Quality Schools Package, higher education policies, work around reviewing the Australian Qualifications Framework, a national VET information strategy, as well partnerships with universities -- as government embarks towards prepping the nation for the jobs of the future.

"With few performance targets -- and in parts scant detail on serious policy challenges around digital regulation -- it fails to tackle the biggest challenge to our digital economy: crippling skills shortages," Husic said.

It also said it is encouraging small business to embrace digital technology.

Inclusion sees the government tout the National Broadband Network (NBN) as "helping to bridge the digital divide, by providing regional Australians with the tools they need to grow and prosper in their local area".

Read also: Government contends rural NBN subsidy and new USO will fix regional coverage

Through the use of artificial intelligence, the report also says Australians of varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds can have digital content made more accessible.

In the report, under the inclusion chapter, the Coalition's troubled My Health Record is praised for giving digital access to medical files for all Australians.

The report also mentions the existing barriers to digital literacy and access to technology, which is "key to ensuring participation in the economy and for social inclusion", particularly for: older Australians, women, indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, people in low socio-economic groups, and people living in regional and remote areas.

However, little is offered to address those gaps in the digital divide. What is offered instead is a snapshot of a handful of STEM and female-focused initiatives already underway that have been handed a few million in funding, but currently do not have tangible roadmaps established.

Read more: Canberra wants more women to take up STEM roles

The services chapter also summarises what was announced last month when the government unveiled its digital transformation strategy.

Basically, the federal government wants to make all of its services digital by 2025 and believes it is well on its way with initiatives such as myGov, myTax, and again, My Health Record.

It also promoted its digital identity play, GovPass, as a way for government to make it "simple, safe, and secure to prove who you are when accessing government services online".

Similarly, in listing initiatives underway that will benefit citizens, the use of chatbots was highlighted. Where initiatives helping small and medium-sized businesses is concerned, the "overhaul" of government procurement, led by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), was also praised.

Read more: Government IT procurement still favouring the big end of tech town

Under digital assets, it is discussed how GPS technology, sensors and the Internet of Things, and 5G can benefit Australia.

"The government's role is creating the right enabling environment to ensure Australia's digital infrastructure supports changing business and community needs," it says.

Listing initiatives already underway, the report again highlights the NBN and mandates such as the Universal Service Guarantee as "benefits flowing" from the rollout of the NBN.

The chapter on data sees the report detail a handful of case studies and discusses what businesses can achieve if they use data, before mentioning that government is playing its part with the upcoming Consumer Data Right.

Where cybersecurity is concerned, the report referred to its own 2016 Cyber Security Strategy. The report says that following the review of the strategy, it found that two years in, "significant progress has been made across its five pillars", and that Australia's "comprehensive approach to cybersecurity has yielded economy-wide benefits".

Lastly, under the regulation chapter, the report says that the role of government as a domestic regulator is "evolving to be more closely linked to citizens and businesses, adapt faster to change, minimise negative impacts on innovation, and ensure maximum access to international markets".

It uses the regulation of Uber, a state and territory government job, as an example of how it has succeeded in achieving the in the above.

"The government is continuously improving the quality of its regulation, including minimising the regulation on businesses, community organisations, and individuals," it says, under the sub-header of "what is the government doing?".

The report concluded by saying Australia's tech future is an "ongoing conversation".


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