It has taken three ministers and 18 months of work to get it done, but the federal government has quietly released its much anticipated digital economy strategy in a document called Australia’s Tech Future.
The 50-page document does not make any specific recommendations, or policy changes. Instead it highlights a series of broad outcomes the government is working toward and outlines the existing programs that contribute to those outcomes.
To be sure, there is a lot of work being done by government to build enabling frameworks across the economy to facilitate the adoption of digital standards, practices and norms.
From skills to open data, to government service delivery and the fundamental layer of cyber security and capability, there is plenty of work already being done – most of it traceable to the original National Innovation and Science Agenda of 2015.
But those who were expecting this document to provide new momentum and a fresh set of ideas and initiatives will be underwhelmed. This is more of a steady-as-she-goes compendium of works in progress, rather than a strategy.
Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said the strategy highlighted the trillions of dollars in potential economic benefits as well as social opportunities that digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things and quantum computing would bring to benefit all Australians.
“Embracing digital technologies will ensure Australia can continue our strong record of 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, improve our quality of life and ensure benefit to all Australians,” Ms Andrews said.
“We are already well on the way – Australian businesses are improving productivity by adopting and adapting new technologies, such as autonomous systems, robotics and remote sensors.”
If there is a surprise, it is that the document took so long to produce, highlighting the difficulty in the portfolio of dealing with the ongoing changes of leadership.
The digital economy strategy had been commissioned by former Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos in September 2017, with the industry consultation period closing in November 2017. The quick turnaround on the industry consultation was aimed at producing an equally quick turnaround on the digital strategy.
The responsibility for the document was passed to former industry minister Michaelia Cash when she took the portfolio late last year, and then handed to Karen Andrews after the August coup that toppled Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister.
Shadow digital economy minister Ed Husic described the strategy as a dud, questioning the timing of its late release.
“It tells you how seriously they take this, when they put out a long awaited strategy right on Christmas Eve,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.
“No fanfare, little new money, few targets and no real plan to tackle one of the biggest issues affecting the performance of our digital economy: skills shortages.
“It’s been estimated Australia needs 100,000 more digitally-enabled workers, yet this government has proposed little in terms of investment or new money to help respond to the demands of industry and our digital economy,” Mr Husic said.
“I feel badly for the businesses, unis and others who took this process seriously to see something put out that doesn’t reflect their input,” he said.
“You have to ask yourself: why did the government bother? Or was this more about ticking off an item off a 2018 to-do list?
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