Federal Labor and Liberal parliamentarians have put political differences aside and joined forces to support Australia’s burgeoning blockchain sector, with the first meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain group held in Canberra this week.
The development comes as the value of bitcoin — a digital ‘cryptocurrency‘ built on the blockchain — is currently experiencing record highs, with the price per bitcoin soaring to $4,251 at the time of publication, compared to less than 10 cents per bitcoin in 2010.
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari and Liberal Senator Jane Hume have been instrumental in convening the group, which came together at the event at Parliament House along with more than 100 industry stakeholders across government, corporate and startup sectors, according to a statement from the Australian Digital Commerce Association (ADCA).
Nicholas Giurietto is the chief executive of ADCA, the industry body for Australian business investing in the blockchain, and was a key player in bringing the blockchain group together.
“I met with the US congressional blockchain caucus leaders in Washington in March, and thought, ‘this is a great idea’. We went to our contacts in the Australian Parliament, and Senator Hume and Senator Dastyari agreed,” Giurietto tells StartupSmart.
Giurietto addressed the group at Tuesday’s event, according to reports from ADCA, saying in his address that “smart countries will take advantage of blockchain technology to renew and strengthen their economies and cement their place among a small group of global economic leaders”.
Giurietto encouraged cooperation between government, regulators and industry professionals in furthering the adoption of blockchain technology in Australia, as commercialisation of blockchain technology “requires deliberate collaboration between policy-makers and industry,”.
“I hope that the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain comes to be seen as a key moment when Australian business and government came together to press the accelerator pedal on blockchain adoption,” Giurietto said at the event.
Senator Dastyari told the event Australia has a choice as to whether it is “going to follow or are we going to lead”, when it comes to using the blockchain technology, according to InnovationAus.
“We can’t compete with our Asian neighbours when it comes to producing cheap goods and services anymore,” he said.
“We can compete when it comes to financial services, but that is going to mean big, bold decisions.”
As a co-convenor of the group, Senator Hume believes blockchain technology has potential outside of just financial institutions, with the ability to influence a multitude of Australian services and systems.
“Blockchain has the ability to revolutionise business transactions, hospital record systems and academic research, to name just a few. It has endless potential to improve the lives of all Australians and I am excited to see where it will take us,” said a spokesperson on behalf of Senator Hume.
“The level of support for the Parliamentary Friendship Group launch demonstrated the high level of interest and eagerness by all stakeholders and reinforced my confidence in the future of this technology,” the spokesperson told StartupSmart.
The future of blockchain in Australia
Martin Davidson, co-founder and chief executive of Melbourne co-working space Blockchain Centre, attended the event in Canberra and tells StartupSmart it is a “great thing that there are advocates for exploring this technology from within government and bringing attention to the technology”.
“It’s a positive that will help people become more educated about what blockchain is and the opportunities in the industry … it really comes down to educating the different legislative departments like ASIC [Australia Securities and Investments Commission], APRA [Australian Prudential Regulation Authority], the Treasury and the banking system,” Davidson tells StartupSmart.
Davidson says that while such parliamentary initiatives have the potential to encourage blockchain startups to disrupt traditional financial institutions, “regulation tends to move quite slowly [in the finance sector] because it’s in the business of protecting consumers”.
Instead, he believes the initiative will likely serve to enhance the exposure of blockchain technology and facilitate greater education about its future applications.
“I think we are in the stage where it’s about education and awareness: the government can help by offering exposure to blockchain startups,” Davidson says.
“Our focus [at the Blockchain Centre] is on education, co-working and community events, and expanding overseas … Australia really has an opportunity to put its best foot forward and help the ecosystem [with this parliamentary group],” he says.
Also in attendance at the event were Senator David Leyonhjelm and representatives from blockchain-focused startups Everledger and CoinLoft, and Bitcoin investment fund Cloud Break Asset Management.