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COVID-19 technology: Australia government forms technology advisory group

The Australian government plans to form a group of state and federal ministers to target technology use across business and government.

The cabinet, the Digital Economy and Technology Senior Officials Group, will deal will explore ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an inaugural meeting of digital economy and technology ministers, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, said that the cabinet will develop policies to assist the growth of the local technology sector and harness the digital advances made by organisations to work remotely during the lockdown.

The meeting was held through video conference and resolved to improve coordination of technology policy and tackle issues like technology skills shortages and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), according to a news report.

The Minister said that technology will drive economic growth as the country recovers from the pandemic.

The meeting was an opportunity to collectively lift the digital capability of Australian business and contribute to making Australia a world-leading digital economy by 2030.

Tech ministers from around the country and the Parliamentary Secretary to the NSW Premier attended along with the Deputy Chairman of the national COVID-19 coordination commission.

The ministers will meet three times a year with their departmental officials meeting more frequently to map the digital economy policies and business support services needed to accelerate the digitisation and resilience of businesses in response to COVID-19, the report noted.

The ministers decided to complete an AI and autonomous systems capability map. It will identify areas of strength and expertise to support domestic collaboration and make Australia an internationally-recognised hub for research and development, and commercialisation.

The group will promote pathways for digital and cybersecurity jobs. It will also address concerns raised by some start-ups that it is too onerous to keep track of various state-based support and incentive schemes and could address vexed issues like the application of research and development tax incentive rules.

Andrews noted that there were world-leading research projects occurring across the country that would benefit from being highlighted on a centralised map. Dealing with compliance burdens on business will rely on the implementation of blockchain to streamline supply chains challenged by COVID-19 and to meet regulatory obligations more easily.

“For too long the Commonwealth and the states have been disconnected when it comes to technology and the digital economy – efforts have been duplicated and, in some instances, have competed with each other,” she said.

Digital tools could save small businesses 10 hours per week and boost their revenue by 27%. Collectively, amounting to 22 million hours saved per week and an additional $385 billion per year in revenue across all Australian small businesses.

The group intends to publish state and federal legislation in machine-readable code as well as in the traditional written form.

Through this, organisations will find it easier to comply and reduce costs because it would allow regulatory technology systems to automate the process of complying with various laws governing different industries.

The NSW Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Victorian Minister for Jobs Innovation and Trade, and the Queensland Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation attended the meeting.

Western Australia was represented by the Minister for Innovation and ICT and Science and South Australia was represented by the Minister for Innovation and Skills.

The Tasmanian Minister for Science and Technology, NT Minister for Corporate and Information Services, and ACT Chief Digital Officer were also present.

The ministers agreed that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital inclusion in Australia. They requested that the senior officials group work together to identify a collaborative project on addressing the digital divide.

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