Australia is falling behind in the global quantum technology race despite its history of leadership in the field, according to a new Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, which calls for a “step change” in policy settings and investment.
The policy recommendations include making quantum technology a key plank in a national technology strategy, a call for a new minister for critical and emerging technologies, and a new national quantum initiative involving states and the private sector.
The report, by ASPI quantum academics at the think tank’s International Cyber Policy Centre, examines the quantum opportunity, finding global leaders will gain control of and influence over sectors like advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and the digital economy.
The technology will also influence geopolitical relations and disrupt national security and intelligence, according to the report.
But Australia will miss out if it continues at with a status quo approach to quantum technologies, and is already well behind global leaders, according to ASPI’s analysis.
“The pace of global quantum technology investment accelerated rapidly between 2015 and 2020, and Australia is falling behind. Before 2015, we ranked sixth in sovereign investment among the nine largest economies actively investing in quantum technology,” the report said.
“Today, we’re last. Investment in the sector by China, the US, France, Germany, the EU as a whole, India and Russia now exceeds Australian investment by a factor of 10–100, even while Australia maintains a strong position in quantum talent.”
While several governments around the world now see quantum as a “burgeoning new technological industry”, Australia has mostly treated it as an academic field of research, according to ASPI.
“The difficulty faced by the Australian quantum industry is the translation of what, until recently, has been a mostly academically focused endeavour into a nascent new commercial sector.”
Last year the CSIRO unveiled a Quantum Technology Roadmap, which projected the technology could generate over $4 billion and 16,000 jobs for Australia by 2040.
The CSIRO report was designed to “start a conversation” between government, researchers and industry, with Australia already home to some of the top quantum technology companies in the world.
But no national strategy has been announced and quantum initiatives were largely absent from Tuesday’s federal budget.
According to the APSI analysis, Australia is also suffering from a “quantum talent leak”, with several homegrown scientists setting up companies overseas or joining global giants.
“Without a strong quantum computing sector and without significant mechanisms to train and retain highly qualified personnel, the significant investment that Australia has made in such talent will be lost,” the report said.
It calls for a quantum offensive of political leadership, public/private collaboration and a $15 billion post- covid technology stimulus to resurrect Australia’s quantum ambitions.
The Prime Minister should establish a dedicated and ongoing minister for critical and emerging technologies as soon as possible, with the new minister taking responsibility for cybersecurity, the ASPI report recommends.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet should have its whole of government leadership role on technology policy expanded, according to the report, and lead the establishment of a new national technology strategy this year, of which quantum should form a key part.
A dedicated national quantum initiative could include training hubs and a quantum academy built out of the current Sydney Quantum Academy to provide training and education at all levels.
Further policy recommendations in the report include a national quantum R&D initiative, a formal partnership with the US focusing on quantum technology in defence and national security, and reforms to migration and tax policy to lure Australian quantum talent home and attract foreign experts and investment.
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