Denham Sadler
August 9, 2018

Digital economy plan set for refresh

Policy

Digital economy plan set for refresh

Digital planning: Australia hasn't had a policy refresh on digital since 2013

The government is set to unveil its digital economy strategy in the coming months, but delays in releasing the report have been slammed by the Opposition.

The strategy had been promised in the first half of this year, with Labor saying the delay is another example of the government’s failure in digital transformation and innovation policy. It says the strategy must address Australia’s skills gap in tech.

In September last year, then-innovation minister Arthur Sinodinos announced the government’s plan to create an updated digital economy strategy – a “forward-looking plan to maximise the potential of digital technology to improve the nation’s productivity and competitiveness”.

The strategy would focus on how Australia “can seize the benefits of digital transformation and secure Australian jobs into the future”, with the government accepting public submissions until November.

The strategy had been promised by before June this year, but has still not been tabled.

An Industry department spokesperson said it was in the final stages of completing the plan, which would be released by the end of the year.

“The Australian government is finalising a strategy that will provide an overarching guide to the formulation, development and implementation of policy in an increasingly digital world. The digital economy strategy is scheduled for release later in 2018,” the spokesperson said.

But Labor’s digital economy spokesman Ed Husic said the delay was further evidence that the federal government has failed to deliver on its innovation agenda.

“It’s symptomatic of a government that thinks an announcement equates to action. It’s for the purpose of getting a headline, so it seems like they’re doing something but you don’t see any delivery,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.

“They announced the digital economy strategy last year and now nearly 12 months later and we haven’t seen anything,” he said.

“There’s no clue from the government about what they’re doing, and we can’t afford to have that type of approach.”

The government has consulted with about 350 stakeholders including academics, businesses, community organisations and state and territory governments, and also held a number of ministerial-led roundtable sessions in June with “senior representatives from industry, academia and the education sector to further test key concepts and the direction of the strategy”, the spokesperson said.

The digital economy strategy would focus on people (skills and inclusion), services (digital government), digital assets (infrastructure and data), the enabling environment (cyber security and regulation).

“The Australian government is developing a digital economy strategy, to guide further policy decisions and investments, and to ensure a coordinated approach to seizing the opportunities and managing the challenges that we face in an increasingly digital world,” the spokesperson said.

“It sets out priority areas for action, explaining why they are important and what we are doing to address them. The strategy recognises every sector has a role to play and the importance of international engagement.”

Mr Husic said the strategy must address Australia’s skills gap in technology.

“The biggest test will be what it does to address one of the largest challenges looking within the digital economy, and that is skills. Any digital economy strategy that fails to deal with investment in human capital is a strategy that’s not worth putting out,” he said.

“We’ll have to wait and see. I’m not going to give the government tips on what it should do or do its job for it. We’re told that the government is still committed to innovation, well let’s see how that all translates with the strategy.”

The delays in delivering the strategy were also criticised by shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland in a speech in July, who slammed the government for “paltry announcements, pointing limply at directions or undertaking to announce strategies in the future”.

“In five years, the Liberals have utterly failed to deliver a joined-up 5G strategy, digital economy strategy or a digital inclusion strategy to call their own. This conservative government is nearing the end of its fifth year in office yet it has still not produced a coherent vision for Australia’s place in the digital world,” Ms Rowland said.

“We should be monitoring and refining the implementation of these strategies in Australia, not wondering where they are. With the vast resources of government at their disposal, we do expect the Liberals will get some plans for the digital economy and 5G in place before the next federal election.”

The government released a consultation paper for the strategy late last year, focusing on three broad themes: enabling and supporting the digital economy, building on areas of competitive strength to drive productivity and raise digital business capability and empowering all Australians through digital skills and inclusion.

It follows the then-Labor government releasing a National Digital Economy Strategy in 2011, with an updated version in 2013.

The government’s consultation received submissions from heavyweight tech players, including Google, Microsoft and Innovation and Science Australia.

In its submission, Google said the digital economy strategy is crucial.

“The importance of getting Australia’s Digital Economy Strategy right cannot be overstated. On the strength of current trends this plan will be essential to Australia’s core economic strategy and maintaining Australia’s productivity advantage,” the submission said.

Microsoft’s submission said the strategy needs to address a lack of tech skills within Australia’s workforces.

“Global comparison studies show we continue to rank very low on business agility and workforce digital and technology skills. This clearly has a direct impact on our preparedness to exploit digital transformation which will hold back our economic growth,” the submission said.

“It is also alarming that other countries are moving much faster to improve the digital competency of their workforces while Australia lags behind. We believe it is essential to make digital skills development a top priority and one that is integrated across all key stages of a person’s education, work and personal life.”

Innovation and Science Australia said there is a “burning need” for the strategy to prepare Australian citizens and businesses for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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