Australia lacks a national plan for the digital economy and risks falling behind the global pack

- August 31, 2021 2 MIN READ
Australia leads the world on several technology fronts, but the Morrison government needs to accelerate industry digitisation or the country will lose its competitive advantage, the IT sector’s peak body, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has warned.

The organisation, which is backed by computer giants Dell and IBM, as well as Telstra, has produced a White Paper with 80 recommendations aimed a preventing Australia slipping from a producer of technology to a consumer.

AIIA CEO Ron Gauci said the paper, “Growing Globally Competitive Industries: Powered by Australia’s innovation technology”, challenges the country’s most influential decision makers to seize the opportunity for significant economic growth.

“Australia’s ability to innovate and support innovation of digital technologies will determine our economic future. If we are to remain a nation of producers and not simply consumers, now is the time to act and support our innovative technologies,” he said.

“The traditional strengths of Australia – our agricultural, manufacturing, and health – need to be supported by strong government measures to stand up against international counterparts. We can become a strong economy or suffer the longer term consequences of not keeping pace with the advancements being made globally by economies that were once smaller than ours.”

A failure to act would me Australia will miss Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s 2030 targets to create a leading digital economy.

Critically, the AIIA argues Australia is well behind the pack globally when it comes to developing its AI industry, potentially worth more than $300+ billion, because its not investing sufficiently in the  commercialisation of AI-based startups.

The report cites the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccinations in Australia as an example of how the country lags most nations on healthcare innovations with Australia still sitting at 26 out of 31 on the World Index of Healthcare Innovation.

The AIIA says AgTech is set to become Australia’s next $100 billion industry by 2030, but it too suffers from a low level of  investment, reflected in this year’s federal Budget, and is almost completely missing from the Agriculture Strategy 2030.

Gauci said there has been progress on a range of fronts in government’s digital policy, especially following the release of the organisation’s White Paper ‘Building Australia’s Digital Future in a Post-COVID World’, last year.

Among the recommendations embraced by the government was appointing a Minister for the Digital Economy, increasing the  R&D tax incentive and introducing a patent box, and investment in digital skills and cyber security resilience.

But overall, there’s still a lack of a clear national plan, Gauci said..

“There is a lack of strategy, policy and leadership to propel Australia’s ICT sector forward, resulting in the country being a laggard. We need uniform standards that will support industry and foster innovation,” he said

“The importance of retaining our IP and skills within the country can’t be overstated. The Federal government’s adoption of the patent box is an example of a good policy that will benefit Australia, now we have an opportunity to expand the patent box to all sectors of strategic importance.”

Australia is failing to harness the power of the fifth industrial revolution, the AIIA paper argues and more leadership is needed on that front, as well as health, agtech, and Quantum computing.

It’s “a poor indictment that Australia doesn’t have a national Quantum strategy”, the report argues.

The White Paper and its 80 recommendations can be read here.