The federal Industry department has quietly created a new Digital Economy and Technology division within AusIndustry, falling under deputy secretary Elizabeth Kelly.
The renewed Industry focus on the digital economy comes nine months after the release of the government’s digital economy strategy – Australia’ s Tech Future – in December last year, and six years after Digital Economy was dropped as a separate ministry by then- newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013.
The changes come three months after a G20 meeting of Trade and Digital Economy Ministers in Osaka – attended by Simon Birmingham and Karen Andrews – that had formally recognised the through its communique the centrality of interface between trade and the digital economy, covering issues ranging from the transnational movement of data to the global frameworks that will govern the operation of artificial intelligence.
The department says the new Digital Economy and Technology division ramps up existing capability in the Australian Public Service (APS) and supports working more closely with the private sector – including Big Tech firms – to deliver on the Australian Government’s agenda.
Its focus would be on creating the policy environment to support Australian businesses, driving economic growth, and creating new jobs.
“Over the next 12 months the division will focus on expanding its work on artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies and taking a stronger role in engaging internationally on policy, regulation and standards for the digital economy and for key technologies,” an Industry department spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
“Following Minister Andrews’ recent series of roundtables with the tech sector, the Division will continue to play a key role in engaging with and supporting growth of the sector here in Australia.”
The new division within DIIS would engage across government, working closely with other agencies that hold responsibility for key technologies – for example IoT and 5G – or with tech-enabled sectors like MedTech, AgTech and FinTech).
Its over-arching remit would influence areas that cut across different parts of government, from skills, visas, and data, to infrastructure, regulation and cybersecurity.
The refocused effort from within Karen Andrews’ Department of Industry, Innovation and Science rekindles a policy tension point that has existed over the “information economy” or “digital economy” between the Communications portfolio and the Industry portfolio over decades.
During the Howard era, industry development policy-making for the IT sector was moved to Communications portfolio. This included the creation under then- minister Richard Alston both the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) and the data research agency NICTA (National ICT Australia) that was later merged with CSIRO data research interests to become CSIRO’s Data61.
The Rudd Government election in 2007 made the Digital Economy a ministry part of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio, with Labor senator Stephen Conroy as its minister.
The creation of a Digital Economy and Technology division within Industry, and under Elizabeth Kelly’s AusIndustry remit places an emphasis on industry development through its traditional home, not in Communication but in Industry.
The new division is understood to be planning for permanent staff in both Sydney and Canberra, and recruitment for leadership positions is well underway. It is currently being run by acting head of division Narelle Luchetti and includes Louise Talbot as head of the Tech Lab and Rachel Frost running strategy.