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Skills, digital and regulatory reform: the ICT sector’s focus

The Australian Information Industry Association says that whoever wins on Saturday, whether it’s an incoming or a returned government, a first-order priority must be to restructure the way it delivers digital government and services.

The AIIA renewed its call for the creation of a single Minister for Government Services and Minister for the Digital Economy. This single Cabinet position would be directly responsible for the dual roles of driving digital government and driving the digital economy.

AIIA general manager of policy and advocacy Simon Bush says the appointment of a Digital Economy Minister under the Morrison government was a good first step, but there is an opportunity to both elevate the seniority of the position and broaden its responsibilities.

“A new area of responsibility for the minister would be to lead on tech regulation, including establishing a Council of Technology Regulators that includes industry,” Mr Bush said.

“There is a red tape burden falling on the digital economy – from cyber to technology regulation – which needs to be better targeted and coordinated. The new Minister would have responsibility to ensure that tech regulation does not put a hand break on the productivity of the economy,” he said.

“In addition, any new proposed tech regulation would need to be proposed to the Council [first], which should be chaired by the Minister.”

Mr Bush said the AIIA had been impressed by the depth of thinking by both sides on critical technologies and the role they will play in the economy and in Australia’s international alliances. Labor’s delivery of specific policies related to critical technologies gave confidence that it would be a priority area, should it form government.

“Labor’s $1 billion Critical Technologies Fund demonstrates this commitment towards developing local capability around areas like AI and quantum, which will also help ensure that our leading talent will stay onshore, and we remain globally competitive,” he said.

“We believe the specific AI and Quantum funding by government to date is too little and both sides need to invest more for Australia to be a leader in these critical technologies. We look forward to working with an incoming government on these important policy areas.

Building an adequate supply of ICT skills and capabilities would be a significant challenge for the next government to address. Reforming the Australian Curriculum to prioritise the Digital Economy is a way to address this issue in the long term, whilst reskilling, upskilling and immigration would play key roles in the short and medium term to improve the shortage being experienced.

Australia peak telecommunications industry body the Communications Alliance says the number priority for the incoming government will be the same priority it has urged in recent years; reducing the industry’s regulatory burden.

“The burden of regulation in the telco sector grows inexorably, and seems to be accelerating,” says CommsAlliance chief executive John Stanton.

“We need a fresh approach to reducing regulator overlap and reducing intervention, information requests, audits and record-keeping to a level where the industry is still subject to appropriate scrutiny and consumer safeguards … but the industry is not paralysed by regulation and national security requirements,” he said.

The CommsAlliance says the industry needs a return to industry best practice. Specifically, John Stanton says Regulatory Impact Statements must be genuine, informed and realistic – and too often they are not.

“The practice of allowing Departments to self-certify that their proposed regulatory initiatives will generate a net-benefit should be done away with,” he says.

The telco industry remains sceptical about the designation of telecommunications as a sector where a Consumer Data Right framework should be put in place and want whoever forms government after Saturday’s election to give the issue another look.

“The government has not been able to quantify any benefits that are hoped to be generated by CDR in telco but creating and operating the framework will cost more than an estimated $100 million in the first two years alone,” Mr Stanton said.

“A statutory review of the CDR regime is underway and will, hopefully, generate useful recommendations for government post-election.”