A combined digital economy portfolio in cabinet could turbocharge tech sector growth, the AIIA argues

Parliament House aiia

Parliament House. Wikimedia Commons/Amritpal Singh Mann - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) says the Digital Economy Minister’s portfolio must extend to government services to ensure the country’s digitalisation efforts succeed. 

The growth of the digital economy means there is an urgent need for the newly-created Digital Economy Minister to also oversee policy around the growth and regulation of this major sector, the AIIA said in a statement released on Monday.

The call for expanded reach for the federal minister in charge of guiding the country’s goal to be a leading digital economy by 2030 follows a federal budget heavy on funds to boost digitalisation. 

Among a raft of policies, the government’s budget committed $1.6 billion in tax relief for Australian businesses upgrading their digital skills and equipment, and $2.8 billion to boost apprenticeship uptake and employee retention to address the skills shortage.

It also unveiled targeted measures including patent box tax concessions to companies chasing innovations in the agriculture sector and those whose technology can help lower emissions.

The AIIA, the not-for-profit organisation aimed at fuelling Australia’s economic prosperity through tech innovation, proposed that the new Minister of Government Services and the Digital Economy would extend its purview from coordinating policy and arguing for budget initiatives, to have a “singular focus” on broadening the scope of digital accountabilities within that portfolio.

The Minister would be responsible for policy around the digitisation of government services, along with digital identity and data sharing programs; the Digital Economy Taskforce; and coordinating digital skills initiatives. 

There is now an urgent need to better align and coordinate the various digital economy initiatives under one minister and one portfolio, AIIA chief executive Ron Gauci said.

“Technology is an essential driver to economic growth that will create employment opportunities, improve services, and enable us to be globally competitive,” Gauci said. 

Its proposed expansion of the digital economy portfolio would ensure the “right processes and systems are in place” to make the promise of the burgeoning tech sector a reality. 

“The federal government has important and achievable goals to be a leading digital government and digital economy. 

“To do this, the AIIA calls for a Minister for Government Services and Digital Economy.” 

Considered approach to regulation 

The proposed new portfolio would also give the Minister greater power to ensure tech regulation does not put a handbrake on the productivity of the economy.

The AIIA sees the expanded ministerial portfolio taking the lead on tech regulation, including establishing a Council of Technology Regulators that includes industry.

The red tape burden falling on the digital economy from cyber to technology regulation, needs to be better targeted and coordinated, the association said. 

In addition, any new proposed tech regulation would need to be proposed to the council which should be chaired by the Minister.

The call follows the release earlier this month of the association’s pre-election policy submission that called for reforms to the Australian curriculum to prioritise digital skills for primary and secondary students along with improvements to the commercialisation programs that would create a separate R&D software tax incentive and expand the scope of the proposed patent box.

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