Australia’s AI policy, programs on ice


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The Albanese government is still weighing its approach to regulating and funding artificial intelligence, including keeping a now year-old consultation on the back burner and pausing or scrapping grant programs.

Nine months into government there has been little concrete action on AI, with focus instead on quantum and robotics technologies. It comes despite frustrations at the previous government’s slow roll outs of a national roadmap and parts of the eventual 2021 “AI Action Plan”.

Unallocated funding under the Morrison government’s AI Action Plan was paused as the new government reviewed several of its elements for alignment with its own priorities. Some AI funding survived the reviews but a significant $33 million challenge program now looks unlikely to go ahead.

InnovationAus.com has also confirmed a consultation on AI and Automated Decision-Making regulation launched a year ago by the former government is months behind schedule and may not go ahead, while reports of a national strategy for AI are incorrect.

An issues paper circulated by the Industry department has received more than 80 submissions with input on how regulatory settings and systems can maximise the opportunities of the transformative technology.

But it is unclear if the consultation will advance to the discussion paper stage originally planned for the second half of 2022, or eventually a final report with recommendations for government.

The consultation is referenced as a factor in the current overhaul of privacy law, which is considering giving individuals a right to request information about how an automated decision was made.

The Industry department confirmed no government decision has been announced about whether the AI and Automated Decision Making consultation will continue, while Industry minister Ed Husic is yet to rule it in or out.

When asked if the consultation will continue, a spokesperson for Mr Husic said, “The Minister is considering a range of AI programs initiated by the previous government, while taking into account reviews currently underway across government that will influence this area, like the Privacy Act review.

“He is committed to promoting more responsible use of AI by industries, in ways that build community trust, and undertaking further work in this area.”

Several more AI and automated decision making initiatives have been launched in recent years, including CSIRO’s work on an AI Ethics Framework, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark technology report, and multiple consultations on critical technologies.

“The Albanese Government is determined to support the safe, responsible and inclusive uptake of technologies like AI, and we are currently considering a range of programs to ensure they meet this government’s ambitions, while continuing to promote the uptake of the Australian government AI ethics principles across government and externally,” Mr Husic’s spokesperson said.

Some AI programs are continuing in full under the Albanese government, including the National AI Centre and graduate programs.

The Action Plan’s Digital Capability Centres will also go ahead with $11 million in funding, after the new government decided in January to continue the grants program. The centres were originally announced nearly two years ago to help businesses adopt AI technologies, however, none have been established.

But a $33 million AI challenge program promised by the former government appears to have never launched and has not secured the support of the Albanese government.

Mr Husic reportedly committed to a national strategy on AI last month, but it is understood this is not yet a certainty with quantum and robotics plans still ahead on the government’s agenda. It has not been ruled out entirely, however.

There is also no formal policy for the federal government on artificial intelligence technologies like ChatGPT, which reached 100 million monthly active users in January, just two months after its launch.

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