Address to the National Tech Summit 2023


Thank you Jamie Simon for that introduction.

I begin today by acknowledging the Turrbal people, Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. 

I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.

I also want to acknowledge Minister Hinchliffe here tonight, QLD Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport and the shadow Minister for Industry and Science, Paul Fletcher. 

Thank you Tech Council of Australia for inviting me to speak at your inaugural Summit.

As a nation we have a big job ahead of us to build up our technology sector, sharpen our tech edge.

The Tech Council is only a couple of years old, but it’s established an authoritative voice; generating the advice and range of actions we need to do that. 

Within government and wider industry, you have shaped thinking about tech skills and jobs, from a small set of occupations for a specialised few, to skills that are being embedded across the economy.

The Albanese Government recognises the importance of tech jobs to the country, having committed to the target that the TCA championed: of achieving 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030.

The word “related” in that phrase is as equally important as the words “tech” and “jobs”. 

I’m preaching to the converted when I tell you this, but it’s worth repeating for the record – today’s world means the vast majority of jobs in the not too distant future, will require some level of technology skills and know-how.  

It is those tech related jobs that are going to be the driving force in our economic prosperity for years to come. 

And people who hold these types of jobs are also the problem solvers, the ones who re-invent or identify smarter ways of getting things done. 

An often under-appreciated dynamic that we need for a modern economy.

But to act on all this though requires a seismic shift in what we think a tech job is, who tech jobs are for, and how we invest in and grow these industries in Australia.  

I’ll give you one example. 

Today my portfolio published the latest STEM Equity Monitor, measuring progress in achieving equity in STEM careers.

One story that stood out to me was that of First Nations woman Sharine ‘Spanner’ Milne, a motorcycle mechanic who uses STEM skills in her work every day.

She comments in the Monitor that, ‘different outlooks and different skill sets make your team more able to handle anything that can walk through the door.’ 

Sharine and many like her are singlehandedly getting on with the job, changing the perception of STEM careers and who can do them. 

But we don’t want them to be doing it alone. 

This is why since becoming Minister for Industry and Science I have prioritised three themes:

  • Investing in human capital
  • Investing in Australian ideas
  • Investing in our future tech potential

Tonight I’m going to focus on the human capital side.

Achieving that 1.2 million tech jobs target will require widening our pipeline of STEM talent, thinking laterally about where those skills come from and in what form.

Calling up Australians from all walks of life to help with the challenge of growing our tech sector. 

We are not moving the needle enough when it comes to encouraging more women and girls into STEM careers.

The latest STEM Monitor, published earlier today, makes that clear. 

There are a number of key findings. Some interesting, some frustrating.

In a 2022–23 survey, parents were asked if COVID-19 influenced how likely they would be to encourage their child to study or work in each STEM area. 

Fifty-one per cent of parents said COVID-19 made them more likely to encourage their child to study or work specifically in technology. 

It took a “burning platform” – a pandemic – to shift attitudes.

This is encouraging and reinforces why the work we’re doing to grow the tech sector is so vital. But we need more. 

Over the last decade the proportion of women in STEM-qualified careers has crept up, but slowly – from 11 percent to 15 percent of the workforce.

At this rate, it’ll take nearly a century to get to parity. 

Not good enough.

We don’t have a century.

The good news is nearly half of all girls in year 12 are studying STEM subjects, the latest Monitor shows.

But then that’s not translating into university enrolments in STEM degrees – of which less than a quarter are women. 

Clearly, we need a better understanding of the barriers that are preventing women and all people from underrepresented backgrounds from entering the STEM workforce, and staying there.

That’s why last year I launched an independent review of the Government’s Diversity in STEM programs and this area broadly.

We should be learning from what works – learning from successful programs that are proven to shift the dial. 

And we need to call out the broader structural barriers preventing women and people from underrepresented backgrounds entering and thriving in STEM careers. 

The Panel is chaired by Sally-Ann Williams, CEO of Cicada Innovations and a longstanding leader in Australia’s tech sector.

Her panelists include Dr Parwinder Kaur, an award-winning scientist and advocate for diversity in science, and Cabrogal woman and Indigital CEO Mikaela Jade. 

Yesterday I was able to meet with them to discuss their draft findings.

And I have to tell you – this interim report will be uncomfortable reading.

It will challenge us. It’s an itchy read, and it should be.

The Panel is focused on ultimately delivering a report that is a change maker, not a bookshelf marker.

I didn’t want this Review to be a mechanistic stocktake of what’s worked and what hasn’t – a simplistic SWOT analysis.

We can design countless women in STEM grant programs but if we don’t attend to underlying issues, will they achieve anything substantial?

The Diversity in STEM panel’s interim report takes a sharp view of structural barriers holding people back.

It focuses on four key areas of systemic change:

Improving leadership and governance: ensuring we are accountable for the change we want to see in STEM sectors.

Here they’ve provided some example recommendations for government and industry, as leaders, to drive accountability.


Instead of every organisation doing their own STEM diversity program, pooling resources and brands to focus on key programs that have been shown to work.

Holding organisation leaders accountable for their diversity in STEM programs – through things like KPIs. 

Measuring how an organisation is changing to embrace diverse skills and perspectives, not just how many diverse people are through the door.

Other key themes include:

  • Breaking down stereotypes and cultural perceptions of STEM careers and who they’re for
  • Improving lifelong learning opportunities in STEM for diverse populations; and 
  • Changing how STEM workplaces attract and retain underrepresented employees.

I hope you can get a sense from all that of the hard work the panel has put into their review.

They’ve had literally hundreds of discussions, including with people in this room, to inform the draft report they’ve presented.

And they’ve gone out into communities too. 

First Nations communities. Migrant communities. 

Because while supporting more diverse voices to thrive is our shared goal, the reality is too often those voices aren’t actually the ones driving the conversation.

I want to thank the Panel for their tireless work.

It is important to note what I’ve shared tonight is in draft form.

The panel will open consultation on draft recommendations in the near future, and I encourage everyone to have their say.  

Your views matter – they can and will help us work together to build a more diverse and effective tech workforce.

Because this isn’t just about that 1.2 million target.

This is about real people and real jobs.

People like Sharine Miller. 

Diversity in STEM isn’t just about being inclusive, it’s also essential for our shared economic prosperity.

A workforce that can draw on different perspectives and creative ways to solve problems is what helps us innovate and grow.

We can’t afford to be complacent. 

Our economic complexity remains among the lowest in the OECD.

The latest International Institute for Management Competitiveness rankings see Australia continuing to slide down rankings on entrepreneurship and business efficiency.

This government has made a commitment to revitalising manufacturing, and fostering entrepreneurship, in this country.

The $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund and nearly $400 million Industry Growth Program have been our first down payments on that faith.

And they will not be the only commitments.

Recently the Government published its List of Critical Technologies in the National Interest.

Informed by that, we have made deepening the Government’s – and the public’s understanding of Australian capabilities and needs in key technology areas an immediate priority.

In areas like the National Quantum Strategy, the forthcoming National Battery Strategy and National Robotics and Automation Technologies Strategy, I have been driven by the desire to ensure these industries have a home here.

That they grow here.

Highlighting amazing Australian businesses and know-how that frankly we don’t celebrate enough.

Providing a roadmap for businesses, investors and state and territory governments to also turn their attention to these areas.

Because these industries will shape the transformation of our economy, and the world.

They’ll change the way we store and use energy more efficiently – powering our homes, our cars, our cities.

They’re already changing the way we work, and how we confront chronic skills shortages in areas like agriculture and care.

They’re making our existing sectors, like mining and resources, more environmentally efficient. 

And they offer us a future for Australia that is more than digging things up and shipping them out. 

In the words of the Prime Minister in his recent CEDA address, the government is dealing with the pressing challenges of the here and now, but we are also never losing sight of what lies ahead.

Thank you.