House debates

Monday, 6 February 2023

Private Members' Business

Digital Economy

12:21 pm

Photo of Aaron VioliAaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the previous Government made significant progress on supporting the growth and opportunities of the digital economy, including appointing the first Minister for the Digital Economy; and

(b) the Government does not have a Minister for the Digital Economy; and

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) Australian digital activity value add increased by 7.4 per cent ($7.5 billion) in 2019-20, compared with a two per cent increase for the total Australian economy;

(b) the digital economy strategy of the last Government provided a roadmap to becoming a top 10 digital economy and society by 2030; and

(c) digital assets could represent over 20 per cent of retail payments by 2050.

While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted so many parts of our economy, the digital economy vaulted forward. The rapid rise in technology has dramatically transformed the way we live, work and do business.

The former Australian Liberal federal government made significant contributions to the growth and development of the digital economy. These initiatives have paved the way for a bright future and have positioned Australia as a leader in the digital world.

This may be a first for federal parliament, but that last paragraph came directly from artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. That's the reality of the world we now live in. We have access to next-level technology such as AI chatbots that allow us to ask questions and get instant answers that are scarily human-like. The digital economy has taken the world we knew and transformed it entirely, and a lot of this was done under the previous coalition government. After all, it was the previous coalition government who introduced the very first minister for the digital economy. Despite the string of cyberattacks in late 2022 and the untold opportunities that the digital economy presents, the Albanese Labor government still doesn't have a minister dedicated to improving the digital economy. This is despite Australia's peak body for innovation technology, the Australian Information Industry Association, calling for a digital economy minister to be appointed within the Labor cabinet.

It was our party that recognised the challenges and opportunities that new technologies present our nation across every sector and every facet of our lives. We knew that change was happening not just on our shores but globally, and we knew that, for Australia to remain ahead, we had to prioritise the growth of the digital economy. That's why we invested $4.5 billion into the NBN network and over $1.6 billion to support the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, which strongly focused on increased national cybersecurity awareness.

We kept our foot on the digital accelerator to secure our economic recovery from COVID-19. Businesses kept their doors open through finding ways for staff to work remotely. Some moved online and others took advantage of new technology to boost their own productivity. We knew that our increasing connectedness to the online world would outlast the pandemic and remain vital to how we work and interact well into the future. This has proven true, with Australians and businesses still reaping the productivity rewards that come with new technology. The groundwork was set by the previous coalition government's comprehensive strategy to make Australia a top 10 data and digital economy by 2030. To pave the way forward, we invested $3.5 billion in digital initiatives from 2020, from building a digital and cyber workforce to enhancing Australia's capabilities in AI and quantum technologies. The coalition government made record investments in telecommunications in regional Australia, including in Casey. But, despite this record investment, more work needs to be done to continue to improve communications in regional Australia.

The digital economy isn't just about private enterprise; it also plays an important role in government services. The previous government recognised myGov as critical national infrastructure. We invested over $200 million into myGov for the two-year enhanced myGov program. This was applauded in the recent myGov user audit. Testing suggests that myGov can now support half a million concurrent users, 50 times more than it did previously. It also found that hundreds of thousands of Australians are currently excluded from setting up digital identities, and its slow progress on legislation has restricted wider uptake.

The myGov audit found there is a risk of myGov becoming an empty shell without ongoing funding certainties. Our dedicated minister for the digital economy worked on the ground to ensure our digital world continued to progress to keep our country globally competitive. It makes you wonder: how does the Albanese Labor government plan to continue growing our digital economy? How will our digital economy continue to flourish when the government can't even dedicate a minister to work in this space? They dedicate a minister for the republic when it's not even on the agenda for discussion, but they won't have a minister for the digital economy. It's time the Albanese government dedicated a minister with the right skill set to take the lead on our digital economy. It's our future that's at stake.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion, Mr Deputy Speaker, and reserve my right to speak.

12:26 pm

Photo of Jerome LaxaleJerome Laxale (Bennelong, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can assure members in the chamber that none of my speech was written by a chatbot or AI. I wrote this one myself.

This is a government that's committed to delivering a robust, inclusive and sustainable future, and the digital economy is a central pillar to achieving this. Research from the industry peak body, the Tech Council of Australia, found that the tech sector contributes $167 billion per annum to the economy, it's the third-biggest industry in Australia and it employs nearly 861,000 Australians—that is, one-in-16 working Australians work in tech related employment. Since 2005, tech jobs have grown by 66 per cent compared to an average jobs growth rate of 35 per cent across the economy. By 2030, the tech sector activity has potential to contribute more GDP in Australia than primary industries or manufacturing. And tech jobs grew more than twice as fast as average employment in the last decade.

Members would be pleased to know that Bennelong is the home of tech jobs in Australia. We have one of the highest concentrations of tech workers in the country; over 18,000 men and women in Bennelong are working in the tech industry. And even within the electorate, and in particular in Macquarie Park, we have one of Australia's largest and most thriving tech economies. It's the second-largest business district in New South Wales, the eighth-largest economy in Australia, and home to tech giants like Foxtel, Optus and a swathe of medtech and pharmaceutical companies where nearly every job involves technology and digitisation.

That's something I'd like to highlight: the digital economy is here. We're living in it. You read this motion and you hear the debate from the member for Casey, the previous speaker, and you think that digitisation is something to come. The member is speaking of the digital economy like he's literally just discovered it, that he's just the tapped its potential right here in the chamber and unlocked its benefits. Thankfully, this government understands the potential of tech jobs and recognises its value in our economy today and also into the future. We know that tech jobs are well-paid jobs. We know that tech jobs are flexible jobs. And we know that we need to attract more and more tech workers to the industry and, with that, we need to train them and we need to ensure that female and First Nations participation in tech jobs are part of a vibrant tech community.

Having worked in a family-owned business for a long time, I can assure you that the digital economy is the economy. It's not something that's coming; it's not a future prospect; it's here now. We are living in it. It's part of our everyday lives. And the thriving small businesses in my electorate of Bennelong know this too. They understand that every aspect of our economy and world is driven by digital technology and they have been adapting to it for years—as we saw during the COVID pandemic.

The government understands the importance of a strong digital economy and is hard at work building the strong foundations it needs to thrive. We're investing in the digital economy and tech-enabling infrastructure. There are just a couple of things I'd like to point out, particularly for small businesses right across Australia. We will work with them to deliver these goals. We've got the technology investment boost. Businesses with an aggregated turnover of less than $50 million will be able to deduct an additional 20 per cent of the cost incurred on business expenses by depreciating assets that support digital adoption, such as portable payment devices, cybersecurity systems or subscriptions to cloud based services. This is a huge investment by the federal government in the digital economy and in helping small businesses across the nation to further invest in technology for their small business and in digitising their small business as well.

We've identified a skill shortage in the sector. So we'll also address this, with a small business skills and training boost. Those same businesses with an annual turnover of less than $50 million will be able to deduct an additional 20 per cent of expenditure incurred on eligible training courses in this space.

We know that tech jobs are good for families, with the flexibility to work from home. We know that tech jobs are well paid and attract people from all over the world. We know the job we need to do to ensure that Australia remains a place for tech companies to set up and to grow. And to claim otherwise is just simply ridiculous. The Albanese government is getting on with the job.

12:32 pm

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

COLEMAN () (): I'm really pleased to speak on this motion. I want to thank the member for Casey for highlighting the importance of technology, because, oddly, whilst in the broader community and the business community we talk about technology all the time, we actually don't talk about it a great deal here in Canberra. In some respects that makes sense, because government is not—and nor should it be—the main driving force when it comes to technological adoption, because government will never be at the centre of innovation in the same way that the private sector is. So what the government should do in this area is to focus on where it can add value, on where the role for government is and what it should be doing, as opposed to trying to do everything, because that's clearly not the case.

By coincidence, we actually happen to be at a very interesting point in technological development. We have seen, in the last couple of months, a pretty extraordinary development in artificial intelligence that I think is going to be hugely significant over the coming years and decades.

I'm about to show my age, but I remember, in 1994, sitting in the Law Library at UNSW and someone showing me this thing called Netscape—which was the first big mainstream web browser—and thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be a very big deal, because the capacity to access information is just far beyond what we've ever seen before.' And I spent most of my career prior to coming to this place in technology. I was head of digital for Nine Entertainment Co and chairman of Ninemsn, and I did a number of other things in technology.

We've seen extraordinary developments over the last 30 years, since the development of the internet, and probably the growth of mobile, in the last 10 or 15 years, is the second most significant thing after the creation of the internet itself. But I think the growth of artificial intelligence is about to be extraordinarily significant. When ChatGPT came out a couple of months ago, a few days later I used it and was quite struck. It was quite an extraordinary product. I was moved to tweet, which I don't do all that often, to say just, 'Wow! This is an incredible development.'

And we are going to see extraordinary changes, because we've now got to a point where artificial intelligence can explain the theory of relativity better than most academics; it can write an essay about Hamlet far better than most students; and it can write a script for a play or a short story, based on some quite limited prompts, which is far better than most human beings could do. That is a big deal and is something that people have talked about in science fiction for decades but the moment has arrived. It is inevitable that artificial intelligence will be widely adopted because economics will mean that businesses will make use of artificial intelligence to do tasks more efficiently and at lower costs and, therefore, provide better products to consumers, so that proliferation of artificial intelligence is inevitable. We are going to see some time shortly this year the next iteration from OpenAI, the ChatGPT product, and there will be others from Google and others. We are about to enter into a very interesting and different world, so the question is: What is the role for government? Frankly, that is going to happen regardless of what the Australian government does, but the question for the Australian government is: What should we do? If I was in the ministerial role, which I am not—us, of course, having lost government—I would be asking the Public Service, which is set a difficult task: What is the impact of artificial intelligence on Australia and on the Australian economy? What is good, what is bad and what should we do? Where is the place for government? Because if we can position Australia to benefit from these changes, that has immense potential. Equally, it is always better to develop and own intellectual property than to just use it, so if our government can take steps to encourage an environment in which the development and ownership of intellectual property and artificial environments occurs, that will be a job well done, and that is a difficult task for the bureaucracy but difficult tasks should be set; that is the whole point.

This is a massive issue which, frankly, will be far more significant than many, if not most, of the things we debate in this place. It will have revolutionary impacts on our society and our community in the coming years and it is critical for the government to take steps to act in Australia's interest on this issue.

12:37 pm

Photo of Sam RaeSam Rae (Hawke, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The digital economy is central to all of our lives. Every part of our world we live in is driven by digital technology, commerce and data. This transformation of our economy has presented exciting opportunities and complex challenges, from how we drive new investment in emerging technology to supporting workers who are on the frontline of the transformation of how we work, from investments in critical technologies to incentives that support business adoption and making sure that Australian businesses and families have quality high-speed internet.

The Albanese government is building the foundations of a strong digital future. We have not wasted a minute in embracing and supporting the digital economy. We have an ambitious plan to create 1.2 million tech related jobs by the year 2030 by supporting new business and new workers with digital skills and support they will need for the jobs of the future. In our first budget, we delivered the small business technology investment boost, allowing small business to deduct 20 per cent of the costs incurred on business expenses and depreciating assets that support their digital adoption such as portable payment devices, cybersecurity systems and subscriptions to cloud based services. And we have allocated a billion dollars for enabling technologies in our National Reconstruction Fund, a record investment in manufacturing; investing in new and emerging industries, partnering research and capital to make it easier to commercialise Australian smarts and technology.

Like the member for Casey, I too am a first-time member in this place. However, unlike the member for Casey, I have not conveniently forgotten the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments' woeful record on the digital economy. How anyone opposite can stand up with a straight face and try and proselytise about the previous government's achievements in this space is beyond me. That same Liberal government that destroyed the NBN, systematically tearing apart a once-in-a-generation infrastructure projects that have catapulted Australia's digital economy to the absolute forefront, who demonised fibre to the premises, wasted billions of dollars trying to create a poor quality replacement and lost the better part of a decade in economic productivity dividends, only to announce that it would actually embrace fibre to the premises in 2020. Perhaps that lost decade explains how, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index in October 2021, that same Liberal government left 11 per cent of Australians highly excluded from the digital economy, that same Liberal government that threw a billion dollars at the tech industry but barely moved the needle when it came to job creation. It wasted tax dollars, lost economic productivity and stalled job creation in emerging industries. What a record! That is another fine example of the rot and drift that defined the previous government.

There was, however, a greater sin committed by those opposite in respect to the digital economy, one that led to the insidious exploitation of workers, the undercutting of wages and the obliteration of hard-fought and won conditions in the workplace. The proliferation of gig economy workers and the previous government's wilful ignorance to the challenges they faced is a disgrace. They turned a blind eye to the mistreatment of these workers, often some of our newest Australians, either by dereliction or design. They did nothing to protect minimum standards, nothing to enforce minimum wages and nothing to keep workplace laws in line with new forms of work.

I am proudly a member of the Transport Workers' Union. I have heard firsthand the stories of rideshare drivers and food delivery drivers who copped the brunt of this unregulated and dangerous work. I am proud of these workers and for their union for standing up against these platforms—some of the biggest companies in the world—to fight for minimum standards and conditions. Because of their struggle there has been success, with world-leading deals struck between the TWU, the workers they represent and platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo.

There is so much more to do. That's why the Albanese Labor government and my friend the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations will legislate to close the loopholes left open by those opposite in the workplace relations system. We'll require 'same job, same pay' in labour hire, regulate the gig economy by setting conditions for employee-like work, define casual employment and, importantly, make wage theft a crime, no matter the industry.

12:42 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the Member for Casey for proposing this motion. I understand he has a background in a tech startup and is one of the few parliamentarians who has some experience of tech and running a business, especially the risks faced by businesses and startups. We need more of that experience in this place.

Much of Australia's tech sector is based in my electorate of Wentworth. A constant message I hear from the industry is that they need to feel better heard and understood by our parliamentarians and our bureaucrats less the opportunities that their businesses present leave us passed. Too often decisions which affect them are being made without their input or full understanding of the implications for the industry. This is a problem for an industry which is an increasingly important part of our economy.

The technology sector contributes around $100 billion to GDP and makes up about five per cent of the Australian economy, a share that is growing quickly and will continue to grow quickly into the future. It will continue to grow quickly because there is enormous promise and potential in Australian technology. That potential will become obvious as more local startups follow in the footsteps of others who are succeeding on the world stage. But the real potential is longer term.

We have the creativity, the talent and resources for technology to contribute so much more to our economy and our society. The sector's future is bright, but harnessing this potential is going to take work—work from industry, certainly, but also work from government and educators because the interaction between the sector and the government is far from perfect. While many of the frictions are small, they add up and they hold us back. That's why the technology community, represented by the Tech Council, are calling for change. They're calling for a talent pipeline to bring gifted people from around the world to contribute to Australia's tech future. I have to say that this is a message I've heard firsthand from some of Australia's leading technology entrepreneurs. They need the chance to bring the best of technology talent into this country so that we can really be at the forefront of this economic opportunity. They are calling for better, clearer regulation and regulatory frameworks that protect data and privacy while enabling innovation and growth. And, again, so many in the tech sector see that Australia is behind the curve in terms of its regulatory environment in technology—too much businesses are actually leading while government and bureaucrats are left behind. We have to change this so that government is properly informed about the appropriate regulatory framework for Australian businesses, not only to harness the opportunity but also to protect Australian consumers and businesses. Better targeted incentives will address the gaps in commercialising Australian innovations.

These are enormous challenges, but I want to talk about my experience as the chief executive officer of the Australian Business and Community Network, a network of 200 low socioeconomic status schools and over 40 big businesses, many of them technology based. What was absolutely clear was that the enormous opportunity in technology is not being addressed in our education system, and that means particularly the disadvantaged kids in our community are missing out. They see themselves as consumers of tech but don't necessarily have the capability to be the creators of technology, and that is the change that needs to happen. During the pandemic, up to 50 per cent of kids in the schools that I worked with didn't have access to data and devices to be able to learn online, and that is just an example; it flowed through to all sorts of other technology skills. According to the principals and educators that I worked with, the answer is the pairing of education and business. Business is leading, at the forefront of tech, but education needs to work closely with business so that kids and young people are ready to take those advantages. I think that is one of the key opportunities of this government and future governments if we are truly going to enable technology growth to be inclusive, which is what it has to be, and ensure that technology growth achieves the best possible economic outcomes.

I support many of the principles of the Albanese government's action on technology—for instance, supporting small-business investment in technology upgrades—but I think there are also opportunities there. I recommend to the government that it consider bringing the digital economy under one ministerial oversight. I think that would be really valuable. The government needs to truly listen to the industry, not just consult it, for us to get the economic benefits of technology. We need to be at the forefront of good regulation in technology, not just absorbing it from overseas, and we need to ensure that business and education work together to enable young people to thrive in the digital economy, because AI plus human interaction is the greatest opportunity.

12:47 pm

Photo of Tracey RobertsTracey Roberts (Pearce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to respond to the member for Casey's motion. Let me begin by stating that the Albanese Labor government unequivocally values and understands the critical importance of nurturing, growing and supporting the digital economy. Our government is strategically investing in this sector because digital technology drives everything we do. These skills and innovations are inextricably woven into our lives, and we remain forward-thinking and innovative to scale and grow Australian-made discoveries whilst planning soundly to ensure we squeeze every opportunity out of the burgeoning digital economy to grow emerging technologies and stimulate jobs.

As a nation, we still have so much to do. To reach our full potential, we need to invest, and the Albanese Labor government is certainly investing. We have a goal of reaching 1.2 million tech-related jobs in Australia by 2030. The Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic, has stated that in order to boost our manufacturing output we must do three things: invest in our human capital, strategically invest in Australian ideas and invest in our future technological potential. We have delivered on our pre-election policy commitments and we have funded the following important policy areas.

Our $1 billion investment in critical technologies, as part of the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, is one of the biggest government investments in manufacturing. This investment has been welcomed and applauded by prominent technical industry stakeholders, who have described it as a very significant investment, compared with the funding available under the coalition. The Albanese Labor government has said the NRF will additionally provide funding for enabling technologies, many of which are digital technologies, in areas including artificial intelligence, data science and software development.

The government will invest $15 billion over seven years to establish the NRF to support, diversify and transform Australian industry and the economy. This will happen through targeted co-investments in seven priority areas: resources; agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors; transport; medical science; renewables and low-emissions technologies; defence capability; and enabling capabilities.

There is $2.4 billion committed over four years to boosting fibre access under the NBN, to deliver fibre-ready access to a further 1.5 million premises by late 2025, which was part of our first budget in October 2022. This is about modernising our infrastructure and capturing the digital economic opportunities.

The Albanese Labor government is investing $15.4 million over four years to establish a start-up year for university students. The start-up year allows students to stay on for a further year at university to take part in businesses in focused start-up incubators and accelerators, giving them the opportunity to translate fresh ideas into vibrant new businesses. In addition, we are investing in education by injecting significant funding for TAFE and universities to help address skill shortages, including fee-free TAFE.

Another excellent measure is the endorsement of the Digital and Tech Skills Compact, which was agreed to at the Jobs and Skills Summit. The compact will develop a model pilot scheme for workers to enter the tech industry, so that they can earn while they learn in entry-level tech roles. The compact affirms a commitment from industry, government and unions to cooperate to help address skill shortages and grow the Australian tech sector, noting that a digital economy will drive productivity, grow our economy and create better paid work opportunities for Australians. The CEO of the Tech Council, Kate Pounder, has stated:

This historic compact will create and keep more tech jobs for Australians and top global talent. Providing more reskilling and training opportunities is crucial to reaching our shared goal of 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030.

This clearly reflects that the Albanese Labor government is surging ahead with strategic actions in the digital economy.

Debate adjourned.