A “step change” is needed in the federal government and industry approach to autonomous vehicles to prevent Australia falling further behind the rest of the world, Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative executive director Rita Excell said.
A new report showing that Australia is slipping behind in its approach to the sector “should sound alarm bells”, Ms Excell said, and prompt both a change in direction and a recommitted focus.
The 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index ranked Australia at 15th in the world, falling one spot from last year.
It’s only a slight drop, but Ms Excell said the report should serve as a wake-up call for governments around Australia and the industry in general.
“We’re very concerned about it. It’s really not the direction we wanted to go in, and there needs to be a step change in our approach to Australia to position ourselves at least in the top 10 globally,” Ms Excell told InnovationAus.com.
“This should sound alarm bells and a change in approach is needed. We have to recognise that this is a global marketplace and if Australia wants to leverage the benefits [of driverless vehicles] and stop the potential negative effects around jobs, then we need to take a step change and have a very proactive approach,” she said.
“We need investment from government and industry to accelerate this.”
The poor performance in the ranking should also signal that current approaches to building the sector aren’t going far enough, Ms Excell said.
“We are confident we can reverse this and want to see government saying that they want to see Australia positioned in the top 10 at least, and support that through programs, funding, policy and encouraging investment in Australian industries,” she said.
“We can’t be complacent, we have to recognise that this is a global marketplace and if Australia wants to be seen and wants to leverage the benefits and stop the potential negative effects around jobs.
“We need to take a step change and have a very proactive approach, and we need investment from government and industry to accelerate this.”
The report measures each country by a number of indicators, grouped into four categories: policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance.
Australia was given a score of 19.01 overall, with the top placed country The Netherlands receiving 25.05. Australia was ranked below the likes of New Zealand, Finland, Canada and Singapore.
Australia scored lowest in terms of infrastructure, but was placed well for technology and innovation.
The federal government needed to look to the higher ranked countries for examples of what needs to be done to support the autonomous vehicles sector, Ms Excell said.
“We need a whole of government approach to this across all government sectors, not just transport. This is about the economy so it should be sitting well within the domain of Treasury in what the investment opportunity would be for Australia,” she said.
“Some of the countries that are leading the way have taken a very aggressive investment and industry building approach which seems them producing and supporting companies and supporting industries servicing the sector in a very proactive way.”
While state governments have introduced legislation to allow for autonomous vehicles trial, further regulatory changes are needed, she said.
“There has been a lot of good work progressed in the regulatory space, but we haven’t changed the road rules to allow this technology to happen. We’ve seen some states allow permits and exemptions, but that is not sufficient for a company to be confident they can commercialise a product in Australia,” she said.
The government also needs to get on the front foot and address the inevitable job losses and changes that autonomous vehicles will bring, she said.
“If we don’t start looking at this and identifying industries that will be disrupted then we’re going to have a tsunami of job losses. We need to get on the front foot and train and migrate these people into other disciplines. We have to be very proactive on what skills are needed to transfer those roles and jobs,” Ms Excell said.
“If we don’t create an industry here we’re going to lose jobs. Traditional driving jobs are definitely ones that are going to be eliminated or modified significantly. And we need to bring the community with us and make sure they understand this.”