If the Albanese government is serious about shaping a better future for Australia, it must prioritise coordination when developing its tech-related nation-building policy initiatives.
Historians could look back at the 2023 parliamentary agenda as the time when Australian tech policy finally came of age. Long awaited reforms to the Privacy Act, a new Cyber Security Strategy, and digital identity reforms hold the tantalising promise of a new era.
Next in line will be how new financing mechanisms such as the National Reconstruction Fund — which will inject billions into advanced manufacturing, renewable and critical technologies—will work alongside the government’s jobs, productivity and skills agenda.
There is a sense of building a tech ecosystem to tackle the real issues that concern us all – climate, energy, health and the future of work.
Albanese’s Cabinet comprises ministers that understand – better than many before them – technology and its role in shaping Australia’s future.
In a welcome breath of fresh air through Canberra’s corridors of power, Ministers have appointed advisers with real expertise. Ministers and their offices are proactively engaging with their respective departments and external stakeholders, who, in turn, are energised by the genuine and respectful outreach. The Optus and Medibank hacks focused the minds of all Australians on the importance of getting tech policy right.
Focused ministers. Expert advisers. An energised public service. Engaged stakeholders. And the public on board for change.
It is extraordinarily rare for all these stars to align.
The one missing piece is coordination.
By way of example, privacy, cybersecurity, and digital identity are each led by different ministers, different departments, and are subject to different internal Australian Public Service coordination and approval processes.
Each of these policy issues invokes specific expertise. That expertise rightly sits across different portfolios. Centralising or creating a “tech czar” is not the answer. It would simply create new silos: “tech” and “the rest.”
But privacy, cybersecurity, and digital identity are inherently interconnected. You cannot have privacy without cybersecurity. Digital identify depends on sound cybersecurity and strong privacy protections. Developing these polices in isolation makes no sense.
Due to the comparatively nascent nature of tech policy, mainstream policy coordination mechanisms (themselves in need of reform) fall short. And almost all existing government tech policy coordination mechanisms focus on one thematic area (national security, critical technologies, digital, data, skills etc.).
The report recommends establishment of a Tech Policy Ministerial Meeting, to formalise coordination among ministers before proposals are taken to Cabinet. Of course, informal collaboration among ministerial colleagues already occurs. But it needs to be formalised – tech policy is too important to depend upon chance meetings in the halls of parliament.
The report also recommends establishment of a Tech Policy Coordination Council and expansion of the existing Digital Platform Regulators Forum (to enhance coordination among and between tech policymakers and regulators respectively).
Establishment of a Tech Policy Coordination Office to act as a steward of the tech policy ecosystem and single entry and referral point for external stakeholders is also recommended.
The research is informed by interviews and extensive consultations with tech policy leaders and practitioners, in and out of government, as well as international best practice.
The model recommended in the report does not change any existing mandates of ministers, departments, or agencies. It builds on existing structures and current practice. Importantly (given the current budget environment), its implementation would be largely cost neutral.
Cultivating coordination will deliver better tech policy. In turn, this will reinforce democracy, drive economic growth, create new jobs and industries, enhance personal and national security, and strengthen respect for fundamental rights.
The Albanese government already has a crack team in place. Prioritising and formalising tech policy coordination will position them to implement policies today that history will celebrate as foundational to shaping a better Australia.
Professor Johanna Weaver is Director of the ANU Tech Policy Design Centre. You can download the new report here.
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