Address to the AIIA Tech & Sustainability Conference

Parliament House, Canberra

Good morning, everyone. First, I want to acknowledge that we’re on the lands of the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to elders past and present and pay my respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that are here with us today. And I also want to acknowledge that one of my main – one of my key objectives in coming into this portfolio, particularly on the science side, is to ensure that we recognise First Nations’ knowledge, and we’ll be making some announcements about that in the near future. 

It’s my intent that we respect the fact that they were our nation’s first innovators learning how to deal with a continent as tough and rugged as ours. 

I also want to acknowledge this event is taking place against a very sombre backdrop as we mourn the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. And I also want to acknowledge the accession to the throne of our new head of state King Charles III. 

I am grateful for the chance to speak with the Australian Information Industry Association – Simon thank you very much for the chance to do so. I can also acknowledge David Thodey here in the front row, Innes Willox who we saw before from the Australian Industry Group. I just want to acknowledge, too, Rob Hillard [Chair of AIIA] - thank you very much for your kind words. You’ve also been a very important voice and leader in the sector. 

The AIIA is one of the oldest digital associations in the nation and one which I’ve been very happy to have a long history with. It’s been around since the birth of the personal computer, founded in 1978. Some of us may have been born around that time – a little past it, a little less later; probably a lot of people in this room a little less later – and have probably seen the bulk of the transformation that we’ve now taken for granted. 

The AIIA has seen the explosion of the digital economy first-hand, the transition of computers from huge mainframes to compact machines in our homes and in our pockets, frankly, with the advent of smartphones. And we witnessed the emergence of this thing called the world wide web – no-one makes reference to that anymore, the invention of the smartphone, as I mentioned a few moments ago, the explosion of digital devices and services that shape our lives. 

Since ’78 the AIIA has pursued activities to stimulate and grow the digital ecosystem to create a favourable business environment for its members and has contributed to our nation’s economic prosperity. 

And I would like to at this point, given it’s the first opportunity to do so, to congratulate Simon Bush on his appointment as the new CEO. As many of you in this room know, Simon comes to the position with a very broad knowledge of the technology industry and working with government. I want to congratulate you. 

I also want to acknowledge Ron Gauci’s contribution in the role. And I also want to say to all AIIA members how much I value personally your commitment to advancing tech here in this country. I always value your advice as a group, and it’s my intent to embed a lot of your input into the work that I’m seeking to do as the Minister for Industry and Science. 

Members are doing terrific work, if I may say, driving innovation within the sector, particularly in terms of some of the things that have brought us here today. If I may at the outset highlight the South Australian government piloting Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud, combining AI and machine leading to accelerate the transition to net zero; SAP using technology to trace and verify upstream raw material supply allowing, for instance, the detection of palm oil from sustainable or non-sustainable sources and assisting in modern slavery controls; and CDC Data Centres, which started here in the nation’s capital doing amazing work developing innovative cooling solutions reducing their water usage and net zero by 2030. 

But there are also some others. We’ve got some big names there. I noticed Mick Liubinskas from Climate Salad - nearly 300 firms that are involved in climate tech and which we do need to encourage more of their involvement. I also have just noticed Anna Bligh here from the Australian Banking Association. G’day, Anna. Sorry for the shout-out in the middle of a speech, but it’s always good to see you. 

But it is good to see that we’ve got a range of different firms, different players of various sizes that are making a contribution and will be very important to harness all your contributions in the effort we’ll be focused on today. 

The sector itself is filled with opportunity for Australia and Australians. The tech industry has experienced huge growth in the past decade alone, creating a hundred tech companies valued at over $100 million, has become the seventh largest employer – one in 16 Australians work in tech sector jobs. And this is a fact that we should all be pressing a lot more in the minds of people outside of this area that we’ve got such a deep interest and passion in. 

We do as a government have a plan to help the tech sector reach the potential to contribute $250 billion to our GDP and reach 1.2 million jobs by the end of this decade. That way we can support Australian industries create a pipeline of high-paying jobs in areas like manufacturing through robotics, artificial intelligence and, of course, renewables. 

And the tech industry does have an enormous role to play in Australia’s transition to the net-zero economy, which is why obviously we meet today. And it’s my firm belief that if any group is suited to confront problems and solve them, it’s your sector. 

Our new government – with a focus on emissions reduction, net zero, National Reconstruction Fund – is wholeheartedly committed to driving technology and innovation and employment in this sector. 

The Albanese Government not only wants to change the national conversation; we want to support real change through the industry. We want to ensure Australia is a global leader in skills and technology that powers the world to a decarbonised economy. 

Innovation obviously happens outside of government, though government does have an important role in shaping the environment and influencing the environment in which that occurs. But there’s no doubt that those government policies can have a role in ensuring this all flourishes and proceeds apace. 

One of the National Reconstruction Fund’s seven priority areas will be in manufacturing renewables and the deployment of low-emission technology. The government will earmark up to $3 billion within our National Reconstruction Fund to support our Powering Australia Plan, which has got a strong immediate focus on building up local manufacturing capability and help speed up the deployment of solar, wind, batteries, transmission for the electricity sector and potentially EVs for the transport sector. 

The success of sustainable industries will be dependent on energy storage, frankly, and batteries are central to transforming the system and the transport sector as we aim for net zero by 2050. 

Demand for batteries itself is forecast to increase up to tenfold over the next decade. That’s more than solar PV grew over the last decade. It’s an area of enormous potential for the sector. By 2030 battery industries could contribute – if we get the value chain right – $7.4 billion a year to Australia’s economy and create up to 35,000 jobs. And that is based on the work or the analysis what has been conducted by the Future Battery Industries CRC. 

We’re putting the nation in a position to capitalise on this growth via our Australian Made Battery plan. We want to be able to manufacture batteries in this nation given the huge store of resources – critical minerals, rare earths – that we have. We ship a lot of it off. Where is the value-add to make a big difference here, particularly in terms of that area that I’ve mentioned around the manufacture of energy storage systems? 

This is where your world-class tech sector does come into play. We will need to draw on your globally renowned technical expertise to assist in establishing a lot of this here in this country. We have an abundance, as I said, critical energy minerals – metals and minerals needed, and they’ll be making up a key part in energy transformation. But they’ll also be in high demand by the rest of the world. So, getting this right will be critically important. 

We want to be a country that makes things, that doesn’t just ship them off without the value-add. We must become a country that adds value. One success, I have to say – I don’t approach this role as a new minister just instantly criticising the work of the government before us. Sure, I’ve got my issues with what they’ve done or haven’t done, but I have to recognise at this point they’ve had some success with Industry Growth Centres. And I recently received an impact evaluation report on those growth centres that found they have supported Australian industries to be more competitive, resilient and sustainable. 

I’m looking forward to examining the report in further depth and working with the Department of Industry and Science to bring it to public light, and hopefully that will happen soon. 

The success of the Growth Centres shows they have the potential to be effective catalysers and mentors for green tech initiatives. Our Australian-Made Battery plan will see the establishment of a Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre, building on that success. I will be considering the best way to establish this growth centre and how it can provide the leadership, advice, and service needed for success. 

Underpinning our approach is an ambition to do more with what we have here both in manufacturing and management systems, and we will need all of your skills and expertise to pull this off. 

As indicated before, energy storage systems will require your insight to develop the software and battery management systems to enable effective and sustainable operations. 

The thriving tech sector needs a large skilled workforce equipped to solve the problems of today and tomorrow, including global challenges like the ones that bring us here today with respect to climate change and the energy transition. 

Earlier this month we had the Jobs and Skills Summit, which looked among many other things at the skills shortages across the country but particularly your sector. Breaking the back of what has been a decade-long science and tech skills shortage will be a tough job but a necessary one. 

We do need to find ways to call up skills from all Australians from all corners of the community. During the summit there was clear consensus to promote the importance of STEM education and careers to meet current and future workforce needs and to raise its profile in the community. We endorsed, for instance, a Digital and Tech Skills Compact between employers and unions and we’ll work with training bodies to get Australians skilled up. 

Since the summit itself, I’ve asked the Department of Industry and Science to look at how existing programs to support women in STEM can be reformed. On coming in I noticed there are nearly a dozen of these programs. What we should do is scale up the ones that are working well and fold in the resources of the ones that aren’t necessarily performing to expectation. 

I’m also adamant that we should broaden the talent pipeline by having a greater or wider focus on diversity. And that’s why we’ve a flagged that we will be reviewing those initiatives but with a view to increasing the call-up of people from different walks of life – First Nations people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, also looking at people with a disability as well. We need as much talent focused on some of these challenges that are confronting us and we’re determined to make sure that we give them a role and a part to play in that. 

We’re reviewing the List of Critical Technologies in the National Interest. That consultation is open and we are hoping to announce the revised list in November. 

All these things, by the way, will link in when we create the National Reconstruction Fund; there’s a lot of work we’ll be doing, including the initiatives I’ve mentioned so far. But we’ll also be focused on the development of a National Quantum Strategy that we hope to bring down by the end of the year. I've also flagged the creation of a National Robotics Strategy, which I’m hoping will be announced in the first quarter of next year. 

Feeding all that work into a number of other initiatives, be they part of the National Reconstruction Fund – and we’ve set aside $1 billion for critical technology funding there to make sure capital is available for good ideas to remain on shore and add value and build capability here. Plus [we have] the government procurement reforms so that we build capability through the reconstruction fund, we put it to work through government procurement. 

The rapid pace of change in the sector means we will need to continually scan the horizon, anticipating emerging technologies. And while much of the technology we need to reach net zero is already here, we’ve got to be aware of ways to improve and accelerate pathways to reach emissions targets which we have legislated recently. 

This will provide the focus we need to stay ahead of the gain in areas such as AI, computing, transportation robotics, quantum technology and the advances in sensing, timing and navigation. And absolutely every single person in this room can play an important part in Australia’s sustainable technology future. 

The tech sector and a sustainable future absolutely go hand in hand and it will be essential to Australia’s transition to net zero by 2050. 

Your skills and services applied to new and emerging technologies in the national interest, designing and maintaining software, developing STEM standards, training new professions, will help us all to reach net zero. 

Software is the connective tissue making battery-powered cars, new forms of manufacturing, transport possible. That’s why we’re backing the sector with a focus on supporting new technology, innovation, green jobs. And in doing so we’ll meet our emissions reductions target and build an economy, a much more robust economy built on new skills and industry and perhaps – just perhaps – turn the performance from sliding down the global economic complexity scale up the other way. 

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to continuing the conversation, and I commend you all on this focus that you’ve brought to the conference today. Thanks again.