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Australia Unveils New Digital Economy Strategy

The federal government has announced plans to invest nearly $1.2 billion to augment Australia’s digital capabilities through the Digital Economy Strategy. The funds, allocated as part of this year’s Budget, will seek to better prepare Australia to respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by the rapid digital transformation occurring in every sector.

The nation’s Prime Minister said the strategy will target investment in emerging technologies, building digital skills, encouraging business investment and enhancing digital government service delivery. He noted that every business in Australia is now a digital business, adding that this transformation is not merely a national one that needs to happen — it’s a global one that is happening.

The investment includes $100 million to support improving Australians’ digital skills, including a new pilot program for work-based digital cadetships. In addition, $124.1 million will be allocated to initiatives aimed at building Australia’s AI capabilities. This will include the establishment of a National Artificial Intelligence Centre led by the CSIRO’s data science arm Data 61.

Projects aimed at enhancing government services will include a $200.1 million overhaul of the myGov platform and $301.8 million to enhance the My Health Record digital health system as well as an expansion of the digital identity system.

Other initiatives will include an expansion of the Digital Solutions – Australian Small Business Advisory Service, a Digital Games Tax Offset aimed at helping Australia improve its share of the global game development market and a $50 million investment aimed at enhancing cybersecurity in government, data centres and future telecommunications networks. Australian Information Industry Association CEO Ron Gauci said the investments will be warmly welcomed by the technology sector, but added that some of the commitments do not go far enough.

The Prime Minister said, “We’ve been advocating for significant investment in health, skills, cybersecurity, digital payments and AI. Today’s investment of $124.1 million for AI shows the federal government’s continued commitment to ensuring Australia becomes a leading digital economy.”

“However, in April we demonstrated that to fully fund a National AI Strategy, $250 million was needed. While investment in R&D is important, more needs to be done to ensure that there is a significant investment in the commercialisation of AI here in Australia to deliver jobs and economic growth. Without it, we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.”

The CEO of an NSW tech firm likewise urged the government to carefully plan the investments to ensure the funds are being spent efficiently. He noted that the government’s upcoming $1.2 billion digital economy fund and accelerate Australia digitally is a step in the right direction, reflecting the importance of digital technologies and tech-driven businesses in keeping the economy going and putting Australia squarely on the global innovation map.

However, the nation needs to see adequate and holistic approaches to every aspect of Australia’s digital economy in order for any of the planned budget to be spent effectively, he said. This is particularly true for the area of cybersecurity — the government will be devoting $50 million to enhancing cybersecurity, and to ensure Australians and Australian businesses truly benefit from every dollar spent, this must lead to nation-wide standards for cybersecurity adoption, appropriate upskilling and training programs, he said.

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