AIIA calls for new Digital Capability Ministry in post COVID-19 era

Australia’s peak industry representative body for innovation technology is urging the Morrison Government to appoint a Minister for Digital Capability.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) says that by creating the role – similar to one that existed under the Turnbull Government with Angus Taylor responsible for Digital Transformation – it would prove to be effective in both industry engagement and policy prosecution across and inside government.

The request will form part of a wider set of recommendations currently being drafted for consideration by Australian governments as part of an AIIA White Paper.

The recommendation states that the Minister should sit inside the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and report directly to the Prime Minister, advise Cabinet and have a whole of government and coordination role. The Minister should be a conduit for industry and coordinate policies supporting Australian sovereign digital capabilities, whole of government digital policies, government procurement policies and economy wide digital transformation requirements including state and federal coordination.

The AIIA CEO, Ron Gauci said: “Digital policy is fragmented across the federal government departments with responsibilities split across Home Affairs, Attorney-General, Defence (ASD), Digital Transformation Agency, Communications and Industry portfolios.

“Given the fragmentation, there is no central coordination of advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on many critical issues. We must have a cohesive approach and understanding by portfolio Ministers to issues such as cyber security and sovereignty, supply chains, skills, and data as major decisions are being made in these areas.

“The creation of a Minister for Digital Capability will also allow industry to engage with government taking a whole of government approach to digital capability and cut through often opaque areas of government policy making in areas like national and cyber security,” Mr Gauci continued.

Digital technologies continue to be critical to the Australian economy and every level of business and government. During COVID-19, digital technology and its underlying infrastructure has supported the economy and will continue to be a crucial baseline for a successful modern Australian economy moving forward.

“The pandemic has also highlighted the need for sovereign capabilities in the digital supply chain. Australia must have the skills and innovation ecosystem to support a globally competitive economy as this step change into digital transformation occurs,” Mr Gauci said.

Speaking at an address to the National Press Club , Treasurer, The Hon Josh Frydenberg discussed the need for a greater digital presence in the economy and the need to reskill those in the field: “In sifting through reform options, our focus will be on practical solutions to the most significant challenges which will be front and centre in the post crisis world.

Reskilling those who may have lost their jobs, upskilling those in existing jobs to adapt to the enhanced digital and e-commerce environment and equipping those entering the workforce for the first time with the skills they need to get a job,” Hon Josh Frydenberg MP said.

At the inaugural National Meeting of Digital Economy and Technology , Chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, The Hon Karen Andrews MP, Ministers agreed that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital inclusion in Australia.

Ministers also requested that the senior officials group work together to identify a collaborative project on addressing the digital divide. They agreed to meet three times per year to track the growth of Australia’s digital economy and technology ecosystem, and for regular reporting on the work of the senior officials group.

Mr Gauci welcomed the initial steps but stated more still had to be done: “It’s encouraging to note that Ministers will be tracking the growth of the digital economy but we also need someone to drive and lead this work, grasping the economic and productivity benefits of digital adoption.”