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New national tech cabinet group to plan Australia’s post-COVID growth

The government will seek to replicate the success of the national cabinet in planning the country’s response to COVID-19 by forming a group of state and federal ministers to target technology use across business and government, as the country tries to recover from the pandemic.

An inaugural meeting of digital economy and technology ministers was convened by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology on 15 May 2020.

It met by video conference and resolved to improve coordination of technology policy and tackle issues like technology skills shortages and the use of artificial intelligence.

The Minister stated that in addition to developing policies to assist the development of the local technology sector, the establishment of a Digital Economy and Technology Senior Officials Group would look to harness the digital advances made by organisations to work remotely during the lockdown.

Technology is going to drive economic growth as the nation exists the pandemic. This isn’t just about the technology sector, it’s about making all Australian businesses across all sectors more resilient, agile and productive through technology, she said.

Ministers from various governmental departments across various the states of Australia agreed to meet three times a year, roughly once every four months, 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.

It was noted that the national cabinet with the Prime Minister and premiers has shown what we can achieve through greater collaboration between levels of government.

In a communique written after the meeting, the ministers resolved to complete an AI and autonomous systems capability map that will highlight the areas of strength and expertise that can drive greater collaboration domestically, and inform the promotion of Australia as a key location for research and development, and commercialisation.

They also said they would work together to promote pathways for digital and cybersecurity jobs and identify technology-led deregulation projects to support the growth of Australia’s digital economy and reduce compliance burdens on business.

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.

The Minister noted that a lack of collaboration across government hasn’t necessarily made it more difficult for businesses to operate, but it has stopped the government getting “the full bang for the buck” from their collective investments.

Of course, the country should not do away with healthy competition [between states for tech investment], it’s what drives success but greater collaboration and collective vision is a great thing, she added.

The Australian government has faced criticism in recent times for under-estimating the value of being at the forefront of developments in AI, but the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology said world-leading research projects were occurring across the country that would benefit from being highlighted on a centralised map.

It is understood that the undertaking to address compliance burdens on business will initially include ideas such as using blockchain to streamline supply chains challenged by COVID-19 and to meet regulatory obligations more easily.

It is also looking at the possibility of publishing state and federal legislation in machine-readable code as well as in the traditional written form.

This has previously been advocated by the CSIRO as a way for organisations to increase compliance and reduce costs because it would allow regulatory technology systems to automate the process of complying with various laws governing different industries.

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