Australia has the potential to completely transform its economy and embrace innovation through modern manufacturing, according to Andrew Liveris, the architect of the federal government’s strategy in the space.
In a Partners in Progress discussion, Australia’s Ambassador to the United States Arthur Sinodinos and Mr Liveris discussed the tech opportunities on offer through the AUKUS agreement, how modern manufacturing will alter economies and the need for better future of work policies from governments.
Mr Liveris, a former chair and chief executive at the Dow Chemical Company, played a key role in developing the federal government’s $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
He said Australia has the ability to quickly and efficiently transform its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have the talent pool in Australia and overseas, with a strategy that directs it to key sectors. We can change the Australian economy quickly and pivot to a 21st century modern manufacturing economy. I’m very confident that can be done and I know that innovators will win when we do,” Mr Liveris said.
To get there, Mr Sinodinos also said that Australia has to improve its lagging commercialisation efforts, and should look to the US to do so.
“In the US commercialisation of research is not a potential add-on, it very much drives the process,” he said.
“When people are doing research here they’re actively thinking about the commercialisation opportunities and the way systems are structured here are very good at giving people a capacity to realise those opportunities.”
Mr Sinodinos urged Australian companies to actively participate in the development of tech frameworks through the AUKUS agreement and the Quad partnership.
“AUKUS will provide opportunities not only to do important things with nuclear-powered submarines, but the capability aspects of AUKUS are very important going forward, covering areas like AI, quantum, cyber, undersea warfare capabilities and potentially other areas,” Mr Sinodinos said.
“These will provide opportunities for our industrial base to integrate and be more interoperable with the industrial bases in the US and UK.”
Australian tech companies should be closely following the global pacts Australia has entered into, and play an active role in shaping them going forward, Mr Sinodinos said.
“The role the private sector can play is being informed about what is going on and actively looking at the opportunities that can come out of these and how they can shape these opportunities,” he said.
“If you’re in the AI space or the quantum space and you’re thinking about your firm and you see these frameworks being developed, try to understand what they will look like, what the implications are and if there’s an opportunity to shape them.”
The Quad countries – Australia, US, India and Japan – will be looking to better collaborate with the private sector on its technology initiatives, he said.
“What I’d like to see in context of the Quad is more interaction with the business sector to get that interchange going, particularly in the area of critical and emerging technologies,” he said.
“You’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got a company, you think you’ve got a good product to sell, think about what the customer wants and how you fashion the product to meet the needs of that customer.”
The future of work and getting everyday Australians on board with technological change is “one of the great needs for public policy”, Mr Liveris said.
“We need a mechanism to get people excited about 21st century jobs and not be afraid of them. There’s an anxiety out there that we’ve created,” Mr Liveris said.
“The digital century has not only arrived but it has changed work. We need to get social policies to actually address what the future of work is, what it looks like and how the human-machine interface changes the skill sets that human needs, and then change the training. We need to accelerate the training in those skills.
“We have to present the case that it’s good for the unions to have a just transition.”
Australia is also looking to sign a digital trade pact for the Indo-Pacific region, which will set the rules and standards for digital trade.
“That will be of particular benefit to SMEs trying to get payment systems recognised across international borders so they can trade more easily,” Mr Sinodinos said.
“Our pitch to the US is that we regionalise these agreements. Part of it is to establish a set of digital rules of the road that are open and transparent, promote trade and economic progress and push back against digital authoritarianism.”
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