Job creation and building industrial capacity would be central themes for the Morrison government across portfolios, newly reappointed Industry, Research and Technology Minister Karen Andrews says.
In the next two weeks, Ms Andrews expects to have built out a 100-day plan for each of the three pillars of the portfolio – Industry, Science and Technology. By the end of that period she expects to have completed policy mapping for the rest of the three year term.
At the top of the agenda are big ticket decisions to be made about Australia’s approach to AI capability, the potential for procurement reform to improve industry outcomes of government spending, and a re-think of what comes next for the National Innovation and Science Agenda, which will complete its four-year horizon at the end of the year.
Taking her marching orders from the Prime Minister, Ms Andrews said the broad influence of Industry, Science and Technology could be pressed across a range of portfolios to deliver improved industrial capacity and economic benefit.
“The Prime Minister has made his view very clear that we make sure we are very proactive across all of the sectors,” Ms Andrews told InnovationAus.com. “He has made a very strong push in Industry, Science and Technology for there to be job creation coming out of this.”
“So we have got to ensure that [we set] some over-riding directions, which is around job creation, building our industries and making sure they are more effective,” she said. “And I am happy to look at procurement as a part of that.”
One “big-ticket” item likely to be decided during the first 100 days would be in relation to artificial intelligence.
Ms Andrews said National Science and Technology Council member Prof Genevieve Bell had been appointed to lead a panel considering opportunities for Australia in the development of AI sovereign capability and was expected to meet in the next two weeks.
The NSTC, which is chaired by the Prime Minister with Mrs Andrews as deputy chair, in February appointed Prof Bell to conduct further thinking on two Data61 reports – the first an AI roadmap for the country, and the second an AI Ethical Framework whitepaper.
The NSTC has already identified research opportunities for AI in agriculture as worthy of further work and is expected to consider draft proposals at its coming meeting.
Ms Andrews said there was room in the innovation system for both a National Science and Technology Council and for the NISA-inspired Innovation and Science Australia, which is chaired by former IBM managing director Andrew Stevens.
“I have no plan to change the ISA. That was formed as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, and that was a four-year agenda,” Ms Andrews said.
“What we need to do now is look at the different parts of the program – we will look at what’s worked and what needs to be tweaked and look to the future, and so the ISA will certainly continue,” she said.
Ms Andrews acknowledged the concerns of the tech startup sector, which has complained loudly about top-line issues related to the R&D Tax Incentive, access to top global skills and better consultation on legislation that impacts the sector.
‘Surprise’ legislation like the encryption bill or the new social media laws has strained relationships not only between government and Big Tech, but also Australia’s home grown software companies.
The sour industry mood resulted in a very public campaign following the election for Mrs Andrews to be dropped from the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio in favour of former minister Arthur Sinodinos.
The Prime Minister instead announced he intended to send Senator Sinodinos to Washington as Australia’s Ambassador and opted for continuity, keeping Ms Andrews in the portfolio.
“I understand that the tech sector has some concerns. What I can assure the tech and innovation sector is that I am absolutely committed to working with them to make sure there are good outcomes for Australia,” she said.
“My preferred method of operating is to clearly understand where the issues are and then to work out a way to resolve those issues and to proceed to implementation.
“Some of the concerns about the sector are well known, and I want to work proactively with the sector not just on the 100 day plan, but on a three year plan.”
Ms Andrews said she wants the tech sector to be equally proactive, and when they raise issues that they also propose solutions as well.
“And so we look forward to working together not just to identify the issue, but working on the solution as well.”