Industry once again warns Australian government about falling behind in tech

The Australian Academy of Science has called for the federal government to turn emerging digital technologies into a national science and innovation priority.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

The Australian Academy of Science has published a policy primer calling for the federal government to place emerging digital technologies higher up the priority list.

"Australia risks falling behind as a technologically-driven nation unless we recognise emerging digital technologies as a central, independent sector in its own right, warranting investment in the core aspects of research, innovation, and workforce development," the organisation wrote.

In the policy primer [PDF], the government-endorsed, not-for-profit organisation warned that Australia could potentially lag behind global peers, saying other nations such as Canada, France, the UK, and the US have placed more resources towards prioritising digital technologies as a strategy to bolster competitiveness.

Australia's digital innovation earnings relative to its GDP was almost four percentage points lower than the OECD average of 11.2%, the organisation said.

To address this, the organisation put forward three recommendations that it believes would help Australia's digital technology capability and innovation keep pace with other countries.

The recommendations are to elevate emerging digital technologies as a national science and innovation priority; include research and innovation in emerging digital technologies in the 2021 Research Infrastructure Roadmap; and recognise emerging digital technologies as an independent growth sector.

The Australian Academy of Science added that more investment is needed towards improving the digital literacy of Australians. Referring to RMIT University's digital inclusion index, it said Australians with lower income, employment, and education have increasingly fallen behind in this area.

Kaspersky APAC managing director Chris Connell has also pushed for stronger promotion of security awareness and digital education saying that government needed to work more closely with industry to achieve this.

"We're facing security challenges that put a strain on cybersecurity resources. Investing in cyber talent and promoting security awareness and digital education are the keys to success in building cyber resilient digital societies and economies," Connell said.

"We need to move from the 'needs' to actually delivering on this -- if we don't, and the way the world is changing, there will be more and more risk moving forward."

While the Australian Academy of Science did note the federal government's recent digital economy strategy and modern manufacturing strategy were a "welcome signal", it gave the caveat that government still needed to recognise the importance of building scientific capability behind the digital economy, both from an investment and narrative point of view.

"The national narrative and strategy for Australia's digital economy needs to address the fundamental importance of building and maintaining scientific capabilities in emerging digital technologies to drive investment and build sovereign capability and capacity," it wrote.

Following a similar theme, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) a few weeks ago expressed concerns that the federal government was not placing enough resources into commercialising emerging technology, such as quantum computing.

"We are in a position of thought leadership and in some ways, we do lead the way. But our concern is that based on global trends, if we don't take the steps necessary to maintain our position, and we're not taking those steps, then we will in fact lose our leadership position, lose our resources, lose our IP, lose our skills, and our thought leaders," AIIA CEO Ron Gauci said at the time. 

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