Friday, 17 November 2023
Questions without Notice
DAVID POCOCK () (): My question is to the Minister for Finance, Minister Gallagher. I refer to the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday that the Australian government has decided 'to explore the safe and responsible use of generative artificial intelligence in the Public Service' in partnership with Microsoft through the Digital Transformation Agency. The Prime Minister said this will be done through a six-month trial of Microsoft 365 Copilot which will run from January to June 2024, with Microsoft providing training, onboarding and implementation assistance to participating agencies. How many Australian tech companies were given the opportunity to tender for this pilot?
I thank Senator Pocock for the question. The copilot trial arrangement with Microsoft was initiated through existing arrangements with Microsoft. That procurement arrangement was in place with the DTA and Microsoft already, so it's building on that existing arrangement. We are very pleased with the opportunity to partner with this and to learn from it. It builds on the announcement that the Microsoft made around an investment in this country in their data centres and cloud based products, which is an important investment, and we're really pleased about this as well. This is a specific pilot that will run for six months until June 2024 through the DTA, making it the first government entity in the world to deploy a generative AI service. The trial aligns with the approach that the government has taken on the AI in Government Taskforce and the recommendation to the future of work committee that all procurement involving generative AI capabilities will consult with the task force prior to any market approach to ensure a coordinated whole-of-government approach. Participating agencies will be expected to evaluate their experience of the product in order for the AI task force to assess its opportunities and to report back to government.
Minister, are you aware that one of our local Canberra companies, Trellis Data, has the same capability and ability to do this? How does this square with the Labor government's election commitment that the Albanese government wants to ensure that more Australian businesses have the chance to benefit from contracts that deliver the goods and services the Commonwealth needs to support Australians?
I think there are going to be plenty of opportunities for businesses in this area. The DTA has released a request for information, RFI, through AusTender to gain an understanding of generative artificial intelligence services and support in the market. I think there's going to be no shortage of opportunities for businesses, including local businesses. As Senator Pocock would know, the Future Made in Australia Office has been leading the work for the government on the Buy Australian Plan, which is the commitment that he cites in his question. We have already done a number of things to support procurement for small businesses, including updating the Commonwealth procurement rules, which target that 20 per cent of procurements by value be sourced from SMEs, doubling the previous target of 10 per cent, and a range of other commitments through the procurement rules. (Time expired)
It's very concerning that if you invest $5 billion as a multinational you then get a contract for AI when there are Australian companies that can do the exact same thing. The draft exposure legislation for the Defence trade controls amendment would prohibit Australian companies from selling their AI tech to a wide range of countries. Is this restriction of Australian AI exports related to the government's new partnerships with Microsoft?
No, I don't believe so, but, if I need to come back on that, I will. This is a pilot program for a short period of time that was able to be agreed to under an existing arrangement with Microsoft. In that regard, there are opportunities for us to learn from this product. In addition, there are some opportunities around training, onboarding, implementation and assistance for participating agencies. We are looking to learn and partner on issues around generative AI. I have no doubt that this pilot on Microsoft 365 Copilot will be informative of further decisions the government takes in this regard. But I also repeat the fact that we are trying to get an understanding of what is out in the market as well. There will be a lot of opportunities in this area.