Three of the nation’s most powerful technology-related associations are in talks on formalising collaborative arrangements that would allow the tech industry and its professionals to present a single voice to government on policy issues.
Both the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Information Industry Association confirmed they were in talks with each other and with Engineers Australia with a view to tightening relationships and unifying messages to government.
It is understood that Industry Minister Karen Andrews’ office has encouraged the talks, with the minister involved directly in one session.
The fractured and siloed nature of tech-related industry groups and professional associations has long been a challenge for governments seeking input into policy questions.
The catalyst for the most recent discussions is understood to have been the health and economic crisis brought about by COVID-19.
Recently elected ACS president Dr Ian Oppermann confirmed the discussions and said the three groups – each an informally designated ‘peak body’ in the strangely Australian manner of the federal government – were “committed” to creating a unified voice, although what shape that might take has not emerged.
Part of the discussion relates to the presenting a single voice in the “recovery” period in post-COVID Australia, which is shaping as a very different place – economically and socially – to Australia today.
“We have been talking to the AIIA and to Engineers Australia about developing a much more united voice on what that recovery might look like,” Dr Oppermann told InnovationAus. “We think there is an opportunity for all of us.”
“I don’t think anyone right now is thinking about recovery, particularly in the tech sector where everyone is focused on the increased pressure of the virus. But soon, attention will turn toward recovery and creating a united perspective with Engineers Australia, the AIIA and the ACS,” he said.
“That’s something we’ve agreed, and we’re committed to. It’s an extremely good idea to develop a more unified view of how we might collectively help the tech sector during that recovery period, whenever that starts to happen.”
AIIA chief executive Ron Gauci said he had been speaking with “a number” of other organisations – an in particular the ACS and Engineers Australia – “and we’re in agreement that we can achieve a lot more by working in collaboration with each other.”
“A number of conversations have taken place with ministers and their advisers as a collective – inclusive of other associations – and I think that has actually worked to assist the process,” he said.
“And given the COVID-19 situation as a catalyst we can now start to think about what happens beyond this crisis and how we work together.”
Dr Oppermann, who is also the Chief Data Scientist at the NSW Department of Customer Service, said the depth of the health crisis would be reflected in the economic crisis it initiated, and that like other industries across the economy, the Australian tech sector would be damaged.
In a post-COVID phase, it would be important to identify the parts of the industry that would bounce back, and the parts that might need assistance – all in the context that the structure of the economy will be very different.
Leaders will need to look at issues like sovereign capability with a clear eye in the wake of the crisis.
“It does start to focus the mind. The old paradigms are going to get torn up [by this] and Australia is going to look very different than it did before the crisis got started.”
“There has been a lot of stimulus money going into the system [and we need to be] trying to make sure some of that is directed in the tech sector,” Dr Oppermann said.
“We need to think about which are the most vulnerable parts of the tech sector and which are the parts where Australia could more than just bounce back – and to think about a world that is a very different place post-COVID,” he said.
“If we can do that then there is an opportunity to help direct some of the funding or effort toward what that future Australia might look like.”