The post COVID-19 recovery phase gives Australia an opportunity to set its policy levers to help dramatically grow our technology sector to its full potential over the next ten years.
So says Sunita Bose, managing director of advocacy outfit Digital Industry Group Incorporated (DIGI) whose members are Google, Facebook, Twitter, Verizon Media, YouTube, Redbubble, Ebay, Gofundme, Periscope and Instagram.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen technology come to the fore to help with everything from remote working to social isolation.
“What we have seen in the last few months is that technology has been a real bridge for people through this crisis,” said Ms Bose. “And I think its good that technology can continue to form the bridge to recovery.”
“Technology has supported small and large business, it has provided data for prevention and recovery, it has allowed education to continue and it has helped communities overcome isolation.
“The thing we have always known about technology is it is an enabler for all industries,” Ms Bose said.
In September last year, DIGI released a report prepared by advisory firm Alpha Beta that showed technology had become a critical component of the Australian economy, contributing 6.6 per cent of GDP and employing 580,000 people, or five per cent of Australia’s working population.
The report said tech provided Australian consumers with an estimated $44 billion a year in economic value from free goods and platforms such as web searching, maps, social media, online shopping and banking, and content streaming.
However, our tech sector was nowhere near its full potential, according to the DIGI report.
When measured against OECD countries Australia’s ICT share of gross value added well below average and ranked us second from the bottom in a list of 33 OECD countries ICT GVA.
The report estimates Australia could generate $207 billion per year in GDP by 2030.
The report calculated this opportunity by quantifying the impact of increasing the direct GDP contribution of Australia’s tech sector to match that of global leaders such as the UK and US where the direct contribution of the tech sector is approximately 40 percent higher than in Australia.
Ms Bose sees the post pandemic era as an opportunity for Australia to lift its technology game.
“Australia has fared particularly well compared to other countries through this pandemic and leveraging technology has to be seen as key in how we become more globally competitive during the recovery period.”
Ms Bose said there are a wide range of policy measures that could help unlock the digital economy.
“Now was the time to review the big picture settings that would best work through the Covid-19 recovery,” she said. “We need to take a big picture focus in examining do we have the right regulatory framework in Australia to encourage investment in the technology sector.”
“Do we have pragmatic and globally consistent regulations that encourage large technology companies to set up their regional headquarters in Australia or expand their operations in Australia?
With a larger technology ecosystem here, the calibre of employees would lift and technology driven business opportunities would increase and overall economic value would increase.
Privacy is one area up for review and Ms Bose believes government needs to be careful to get privacy settings right, so that they do not inadvertently stifle tech growth.
“One of the things on the government’s agenda in 2020 is privacy reform. Privacy is incredibly important and there is a real opportunity here to modernise the privacy protections that people have online,” she said.
“At the same time, we have got to look at the fact that the technology sector is not growing at the same rate as other OECD countries.
“With the economic challenges that we currently face as a result of the pandemic and the fact we are not starting the race to a digitally enabled economy, now might not be the most opportune time to implement some of the really strict privacy proposals that could erect digital barriers in Australia.”