While Australia’s peak associations for tech professionals have largely welcomed the newly elected Labor Government’s ministerial appointees, concerns remain over the lack of a centralised digital economy portfolio and where Federal responsibility will lie for promoting the sector’s growth.
Two out of the three main technology bodies expressed disappointment regarding the Government’s decision to drop the standalone Digital Economy Ministry.
The first full Ministry and nominations list, issued by the Australian Labor Party’s majority Government, included the appointments of Clare O’Neil as the Minister for Cyber Security and Home Affairs, Ed Husic as Minister for Industry and Science, and Bill Shorten as Minister for Government Services and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), among others.
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) also “particularly welcomed” the appointment of Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Skills and Training, with the peak body long stressing the critical role of the tech sector in the Government’s aim “of helping Australians gain secure and well-paid jobs”.
O’Connor previously served as Minister for Employment Participation during the Rudd Government, between 2007-09, with the ALP praising his efforts at the time in overhauling the Job Network system and in helping to establish the one-stop-shop Job Services Australia.
ACS President, Nick Tate, said the association would approach new ministers at the upcoming Employment Summit to advocate for a range of measures to get more people into technology roles.
At the same time, ACS expressed disappointment that a new standalone Digital Economy Ministry was not created. Coalition Senator Jane Hume had previously headed the Digital Economy portfolio, appointed in December 2020, alongside Superannuation and Financial Services.
“The Digital Economy portfolio was an important part of our 2022 Election Platform and was one of nine proposals to boost Australia’s technology sector,” ACS said in a media statement.
“We hope that during the term of this Government the sector gets the cabinet-level recognition that such a critical part of the economy deserves.”
Despite the lack of a dedicated portfolio, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Australia’s peak advocacy group for tech industry innovation – which noted that significant skills shortages were impeding the growth of the innovation and ICT industries – said it was pleased to see the appointment of a range of cabinet-level ministers responsible for the digital economy.
The AIIA added that it was looking forward to “reading the forthcoming Administrative Arrangement Orders to understand which Minister is responsible for the Digital Transformation Agency and whether the Digital Economy Taskforce will continue to exist and, if so, which Minister has responsibility”.
“We see a strong need for a coordinated cross-government and economy lens on digital to support Australia’s third-largest industry, so it is disappointing to see the Digital Economy Minister being dropped from the Albanese Ministry,” AIIA chief executive, Ron Gauci, said in a statement.
On the positive side, AIIA emphasised the Labor Party’s commitment to a range of policies that promised “strong support for Australia’s ICT and innovation sectors”, including measures to help address the significant skills shortage the industry is facing and to support critical technologies.
The Tech Council of Australia (TCA), which worked with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese prior to his election victory, at which time he committed to supporting the goal of having 1.2 million people in tech jobs by 2030, said the commitment would mean employers would be more willing to add jobs across the industry.
“Setting this goal on behalf of Government matters because it sends a clear signal to Australians that employers will sign-up to create these jobs, and there is a shared commitment to help Australians work in them, including through reskilling and training opportunities,” TCA chief executive, Kate Pounder, said.
TCA, which was launched in 2019, advocated a critical role for Australia’s tech sector in its post-Covid-19 recovery, recognising growing employment across the ICT sector during this time. The peak body expects tech-related activity to contribute $250 billion to GDP by 2030, and further noted its ambition to make Australia “the best place to start and scale a company”.
Following the new appointments, newly elected opposition leader Peter Dutton announced his nomination of James Peterson as Shadow Minister for Cyber Security and Countering Foreign Interference, stressing that cyberattacks and foreign interference were the two of the most serious contemporary threats to Australia’s democracy.
“It is critical as a nation we now seize the opportunity presented by AUKUS [Australia’s trilateral security pact with the US and UK] to further enhance our cyber capabilities,” Peterson said commenting on his own appointment.
“I hope the new Labor government maintains and builds upon our reforms to protect critical infrastructure, combat ransomware, tackle the dark web and criminalise foreign state interference in our democracy.”