Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

Lisa Millar
Housing figures, AI regulatory framework.

LISA MILLAR: Also want to have a chat about it with the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic, who joins us now from Canberra. Good morning, Minister. We're going to talk about AI and what the government's doing in that regard. But I've got to put to you all these figures that we've been getting the news yesterday, Philip Lowe's response that these are the economic decisions people are going to have to make. Get a flatmate this morning. Australians would be waking up wondering when on earth they are going to get some good news here.

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I think what we are trying to do is make sure that with some of these issues that are confronting people, that we've starting to work on the response. And clearly we came into government thinking around boosting housing supply. It's why we're putting forward the Housing Australia Future Fund to help start doing, giving that uptick. We've got build to rent reforms announced in the budget to increase housing stock and also other measures to help reduce people's cost of living, because we know people are under the pump. So, there are a lot of things that do need to be done, but we, one, absolutely recognise those concerns in the public and two, we're working to respond to those concerns.

LISA MILLAR: Is the government doing enough right now?

ED HUSIC: We are working. I mean, again, we've got a range of different areas where we're working in particularly to lift supply and clearly we want to be able to get some of those reforms through the Senate. And we're saying to the parties, particularly the Coalition, that if you're concerned about this, then you've got to show how you want to respond. And the best way to respond is to support what the government's trying to do to boost supply.

LISA MILLAR: Minister, let's turn to AI. You're releasing two important reports today that come a day after we were reporting senior members in this community suggesting that AI and how to deal with it needed to be treated with the same priority of pandemics and nuclear attacks. That sent the shudders through just about everyone. What's Australia doing and what risk are we facing?

ED HUSIC: Certainly, people appreciate AI is around them, they use it in ways that they do know or in other instances, don't. And I think there's clearly in the community, a concern about whether or not the technology is getting ahead of itself. Governments have got a clear role to play in recognising the risk and responding to it, putting the curbs in place. We already have about probably a dozen different laws, Lisa, that take into account the impact of AI and being able to respond to it in a legal sense. But given the developments over the last, in particular, six months, we want to make sure that our legal and regulatory framework is fit for purpose. And that's why we're asking people, either experts or the community, to be involved in this process, in the discussion process, with the papers that we put out to let us know what their expectations are and what they want to see.

LISA MILLAR: Well, you've got the AI ethics framework, but it's voluntary. We've seen with other areas that self-regulation doesn't work and this would appear to be an area where that definitely wouldn't work. How tough are you prepared to get to make Australians feel more at ease with these advances?

ED HUSIC: I think we will make sure that once we go through the consultation, that we've got regulations that give people that confidence and assurance that the laws are fit for purpose and we set out in the discussion paper a really broad sort of field to work with. I agree. I don't think self regulation in this case is what people will necessarily be comfortable with. We obviously want firms to think about these things, firms that are developing and using AI to think about these things early on. But, I think where we're at at the moment and there are people in the sort of realm of technology saying we expect that regulation will be better, or there'll be people, other sectors, banking and others, that have said, we do, we will benefit from stronger regulation in this space. And that's what we're responding to. And we want to get ahead of these things instead of having the laws lag technology. We're responding relatively quickly to recent developments.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. And there could be lots of positives could be positives with medical imaging-

ED HUSIC: Absolutely.

LISA MILLAR: - and building safety and you name it. There's so many. This is one of those issues, though, when we hear that the Chinese and Indian tech companies are also full steam ahead. Do we need global consensus on this for us to at least be putting in laws and regulations that we know can make a difference?

ED HUSIC: So, just before I get to the global response, can I just pick up on something you just said then? You're absolutely right. There's a lot of good that comes out of this technology, particularly in the medical arena, where it may be incredibly useful in finding and we use this through the course of the pandemic on vaccine development and there'll be other medical breakthroughs that can be used. So, we need to have the framework right, that people are confident about the way the technology has been used, that it's working in favour or for the benefit of communities really important. And working internationally will also be crucial. But bear in mind, and again, our discussion paper sets out the type of regulatory responses you're seeing in different countries. There are some differences about the way to manage it and where we can work together we should, but I think the Australian public has an expectation that their government will, one, recognise those risks and respond. And that's absolutely what the Albanese government wants to do.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. So, just finally, you are considering banning some of the more high-risk elements of AI?

ED HUSIC: Where there is a clear high risk that is one of the options that is on the table. We want to go through the consultation process. We don't want to put the cart before the horse, as it were, here. We want people to have their say. But clearly where there are things that the public are saying in very loud terms that they want us to be able to respond and manage, then we want to have those options on the table, absolutely.

LISA MILLAR: No doubt we'll be talking about this lots more. Minister Ed Husic. Thanks for coming on. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks for your time, Lisa.