The Australian Information Industry Association has called on the next federal government to combine the functions of the Digital Economy minister and the Government Services minister into a single, Cabinet-level ministerial position.
The new Minister of Government Services and the Digital Economy would sit inside the Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio and would take responsibility for everything from policymaking on the digitisation of government services and whole of government technology architectures to technology procurement policy; digital identity and data-sharing; the Consumer Data Right; and digital skills initiatives.
The AIIA also wants the new super-Minister to take industry development policymaking for critical emerging technology like quantum computing and artificial intelligence out of the Industry portfolio, and to become the critical liaison path between industry and defence on these critical technologies initiatives.
In fact, the AIIA wants this new Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy to have a direct say on whole-of-government commercialisation and incentives strategy – including the R&D Tax Incentive, AI and quantum commercialisation, as well as the patent box and the search for innovation in program delivery.
It’s a quite radical proposal, bringing together three core elements that have conventionally been kept in separate government silos: 1) technology regulation (generally Treasury and Communications; 2) Industry development (Industry) and 3. Tech-enabled government service delivery (decentralised across departments, but with centralised policymaking held by the Digital Transformation Agency in PM&C.)
The AIIA says there are a number of global forces at work right now that should prompt a rethink of the way government deals with information technology.
The first is the accelerated arrival of critical technologies like quantum computing and AI – and a recognition of the huge opportunities and challenges that these technologies present.
The second is the changed geostrategic environment, and the increased focus on building domestic capability and capacity. The demonstration of supply chain fragility during the pandemic has underscored this issue.
Thirdly, is the imperative to restoke the economy as Australia emerges from the pandemic years, and to grasp the opportunity to build new industries.
AIIA chief executive Ron Gauci told InnovationAus.com that Digital Economy Minister Jane Hume and Government Services Minister Stuart Robert had made good progress.
“But we think post-election [whoever forms government] there is an opportunity right now to take that to a new level,” Mr Gauci said.
“We are suggesting that because the digital economy agenda – and all of the things surrounding that including technology infrastructure, AI, quantum, and cybersecurity – impacts the rest of the economy, that there needs to be single minister who sits in Cabinet and works across all of [these areas],” he said.
“We just think that this is something that does need to be recognised in terms of its importance to the economy … and for Australian society.”
Mr Gauci said the Minister for the Digital Economy and Government Services would also take on whole of government responsibility for technology regulation, including establishing a Council of technology Regulators – which the minister would chair – a reform proposal that the AIIA put forward earlier this year.
“Technology is an essential driver to economic growth that will create employment opportunities, improve services, and enable us to be globally competitive,” Mr Gauci said.
“Now is the time for government to recognise the opportunities that the Technology Sector will provide and ensure the right processes and systems are in place to make this a reality.
“The federal government has important and achievable goals to be a leading digital government and digital economy. To do this, the AIIA calls for a Minister for Government Services and Digital Economy.”
The bigger change would be in putting the industrial development policymaking for critical technologies into the hands as the same minister doing tech-enabled service delivery and technology regulation.
“AI and Quantum Computing offers Australia massive economic growth opportunities,” Mr Gauci said. “Having a minister solely focused on supporting and delivering national strategies for key digital growth areas such as these is a must.”
“Australia’s capabilities in the ICT sector must be prioritised by our next government. Streamlining strategic domestic procurement policies and critical technologies is needed to support Australia’s ICT sector, both large providers and SME’s.
“It is important Australia’s domestic capabilities in the sector are supported and recognised, we have seen in the past two years that we can’t rely on other countries to supply services and talent to fill our shortages.
“The skills shortage in the ICT sector is a significant challenge for the next government to address.”
A new area of responsibility for the Minister would be to lead on tech regulation, including establishing a Council of Technology Regulators that includes industry – a reform the AIIA has previously called for.
There is a red tape burden falling on the digital economy – from cyber to technology regulation – which needs to be better targeted and coordinated.
The new Minister would have responsibility to ensure that tech regulation does not put a hand break on the productivity of the economy.
In addition, any new proposed tech regulation would need to be proposed to the Council which should be chaired by the Minister. AIIA CEO, Mr Ron Gauci said:
“Technology is an essential driver to economic growth that will create employment opportunities, improve services, and enable us to be globally competitive.
“Now is the time for Government to recognise the opportunities that the Technology Sector will provide and ensure the right processes and systems are in place to make this a reality.
“The Federal Government has important and achievable goals to be a leading digital government and digital economy. To do this, the AIIA calls for a Minister for Government Services and Digital Economy.”
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