Denham Sadler
September 4, 2019

Our ‘active decline’ as a digital nation

Policy

Our ‘active decline’ as a digital nation

Glenn Wightwick: 'It is essential that we chart our own course'

Australian industry needs more from the research sector and policy reform is needed to address the country’s “active decline” as a digital nation, according to a new report and strategic plan.

The Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering unveiled the Preparing for Australia’s Digital Future report on Wednesday morning.

The report is meant to act as a strategic plan for Australia’s digital future, with 32 recommendations packaged into five priority areas:

  • closer partnerships between industry and the research community
  • strengthening the digital workforce
  • delivering whole-of-government action
  • reforms of the research sector
  • digital leadership in industry

The plan fills a critical gap in Australia’s innovation system.

“Despite broad and longstanding acceptance of the importance to Australia of information and communications technologies and related scientific and engineering disciplines, until now we have lacked an overarching strategic plan for prosperous digital future,” the report said.

“Although we’re aware of the importance of digital technology to Australia, we lag most developed countries in both business awareness and plans for the future. Our international standing as a forward-looking digital nation is not only at risk, it is in active decline.”

The strategy is the result of the academies’ consultations with industry, academia and government – the “synthesised views” of more than 200 experts.

Its development was guided by an expert steering committee, co-chaired by Academy of Technology and Engineering fellow Professor Glenn Wightwick.

“Digital transformations are continuously and rapidly evolving, driven by aggressive technology progress and accelerating uptake – and Australia is not driving. It is essential that, through strategic actions outlined in this plan, we are able to chart our own course,” Prof Wightwick said.

Improving collaboration between universities and the private sector should be an urgent priority for government, the report said. 

Among the recommendations are the creation of a “readily accessible, up-to-date directory of Australian ICT research strengths and capabilities relevant to the digital economy”, the identification and promotion of digital strengths and global linkages and better matching of research capability with industry needs.

Significant reforms and cultural changes are needed within Australia’s education and research sector to better embrace digital opportunities, according to the plan.

There needs to be a reshape of research culture to place a “substantially higher emphasis on industry experience, placements and collaborations in hiring, promotion and research funding”, and there needs to be an “urgent increase” in the professional development on offer in digital-related fields.

The government has a significant role in this strategic plan too. It needs to conduct a national future-readiness review for Australian digital research sectors, and monitor, evaluate and optimise the applied ICT elements of the Coalition’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.

“Australia needs to be much more proactive about adopting and owning the ICT-driven transformations currently permeating the whole economy. This is also required to place Australia in a position of strength ahead of subsequent waves of change. Government consultation processes should be genuine and timely and engage all constructive stakeholders,” the report said.

“Policy consistency is also important. Consistency of policy and resourcing enhances our national capacity to realise the dividends of good research by providing academia with the stability required for longer-term research, and industry with more certain investment settings.”

The strategy also said that more needs to be done to promote, support and strengthen the Digital Transformation Agency as a whole-of-government initiative to better drive these initiatives within government.

The Learned Academies will next establish a taskforce to lobby for the implementation of these recommendations going forward. It will also be going to key organisations and contributors to present the case for the series of recommendations.

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