Defence scientists want ‘stocktake’ of robotics laws

Justin Hendry

The motley of laws and regulations that apply to robotics must be reviewed in order to pinpoint barriers and growth opportunities for the fledgling sector, the Defence Science and Technology Group has told the federal government.

Defence’s research and development arm has also advocated for greater access to capital and facilities in Australia, which it says is well-placed to become a robotics powerhouse due to its size and a stable economy.

In a submission to the national robotics strategy consultation, DSTG urged the government to commit to a review of existing legislation and regulations to “identify enablers, barriers and opportunities”, and “mitigate against hindering growth”.

“To enable the agility required by government to support sector growth, Defence recommends conducting a stocktake of existing legislation and regulations to identity enablers, barriers and opportunities for greater production and adoption of robotics, including any gaps in legislation,” it said.

Image: Department of Defence

“The Department of Industry, Science and Resources should consider and aggress what will hinder industry in developing capability and innovation in this sector and what needs to be in place to ensure public confidence.”

Relevant pieces of legislation include the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018, which was updated in 2021 and 2022 to cover a greater number of sectors, and the Foreign Acquisition and Takeovers Act 1975 (FATA).

The discussion paper, which was released by the Industry department in April, has already flagged greater foreign investment in the sector as one of several key areas of focus identified by industry to fuel its growth.

DSTG said that “investment in cybersecurity technology should also be considered under the FATA to ensure the sector does not attract adverse foreign investment and secure sovereign capability is developed”.

The need for industry-specific capital is also discussed in the submission, with a “Defence-focused Sovereign Venture Capital Fund or a robotics industry specific venture equity fund” recommended to grow companies contributing to Defence robotics capability.

“As part of its broad investment mandate, the fund could include a governance framework that supports investment in robotics companies to grow a sovereign industry capability,” DSTG said in the submission.

“Consideration could also be given to non-traditional methods of financing where appropriate, to increase access to capital and broaden the defence industry financial landscape, and include hybrid models of financing of government and private finance.”

DSTG stressed that the robotics strategy should reflect the “broad range of opportunities and potential benefits for robotics and automation technologies in defence and national security” and encourage “industry to seek opportunities to work with Defence”.

Earlier this month, Defence launched a new $3.4 billion Defence accelerator to replace its industry-facing defence innovation programs, including the Next Generation Technologies Fund and Defence Innovation Hub.

Dubbed the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA), the entity has been created to address the “missing link” between the local defence industry and the Australian Defence Force, with the aim of challenging DSTG to move with greater urgency emerging technologies.

But the submission indicates there is still room to improve commercialisation of robotics and automation technologies through a combination of increased awareness of whole-of-government investments, and a “focus on dual-use technologies” that fulfil national security capability needs.

DSTG has also recommended that the federal government proritise “building or expanding access to existing robotics testing facilities to attract collaborations between research institutions and industry”.

“Given Australia’s large land mass and stable geopolitical and economic environment, it is an attractive place for industry and academia to test new technologies,” the group said.

“As some of these facilities already exist (e.g. Queensland Flight Test Range, ReefWorks, Woomera Test Range), it may just be a matter of expanding access to existing facilities and creating locally convenient options to meet demand.” will host a half-day Capability Papers Showcase forum at Parliament House in Canberra on August 3, highlighting innovation and funding pathways for local dual-use technology providers. Limited seating is available – reserve your place here.

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