Industry Minister Karen Andrews says the lessons of the initial COVID-19 response would significantly change industry development policy in Australia, and in particular the way government looked at supply chains – including in the information technology sector.
Minister Andrews said the crisis had also changed the relationship between government and the big tech providers in the relation to data sharing and information sharing, given the utility of the information exchange that occurred at the height of the lockdown.
In a wide-ranging interview with InnovationAus’ Commercial Disco podcast, Mrs Andrews says she is confident the economic recovery will be led by industry and underpinned by the nation’s science and technology expertise as the enablers of industry.
She has committed to talking with government colleagues about the importance of using government procurement as a lever to building Australian capability and to bolster supply chains – not just for critical manufactured goods like PPE, but in the information technology supply chain for cloud services and other software.
“In my discussions with the Prime Minister in particular, I have been talking about this being an industry-led recovery – which it will be – but with science and technology as the enablers of industry,” Minister Andrews said.
“As we come through [the crisis], the important thing is to make sure that industry – well and supported by science and technology – is going to lead our economic recovery,” she said.
In terms of policy, everything is on the table in the months leading up to the federal budget in October. Everything is being viewed through a new lens, she said, and government is consulting broadly across different sectors to find the best programs to move forward.
While a focus for government would continue to be on improving business investment in R&D, increasing the level of business and institutional research collaboration, and improving commercial and export outcomes of Australian innovation, this did not mean a Spend-A-Thon of new publicly-funded initiatives.
Mrs Andrews acknowledged the role of the government as a buyer of products and services that allowed the heroic pivots in the manufacturing sector to volume production of PPE (personal protective equipment) and medical devices like ventilators, and said that in terms of supply chains and sovereign capability, the information technology sector is no different.
“I am well and truly on the record in saying that government should be using procurement as one of the levers [for building capability],” Mrs Andrews said. It was an unfortunate reality that many Australian products and services in the tech sector had to go overseas to find their first big customers before they could get a foot in the door of governments or large enterprises in Australia.
“Certainly, I will be talking to all of my colleagues that my view is that we should be looking at using [government] procurement levers [to support local industry].”
The most contentious issued raised in this wide-ranging interview related to the increased information sharing and data sharing during the COVID-19 crisis between the government and large tech companies.
She said the COVID-19 crisis had made a “fundamental change” in the relationship between government and big tech in relation to data sharing.
She said the access to new data sources like search results “enabled us to put together some of the policies that we needed at the height of the crisis.”
“One of the most significant examples of that [sharing] was the information and data in relation to domestic violence searches. That information was passed to government in terms of the escalation in the number of searched of domestic violence [support services],” Mrs Andrews said.
“That information was fed through to us developing some additional measures to deal with the fact that there were people at home, there were limited opportunities for them to leave the house … and that there were steady increases in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence,” she said.
“That was really good to get that information and have that shared. That is just one example [of] data sharing and information sharing. But what that has enabled to happen is a much closer relationship between the tech sector and government.”