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Address to the Data61 Live event

Sydney

2 October 2019

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It is a great pleasure to be here today and to speak with you. As you just heard I'm a mechanical engineer. So my entire life, even before my work as an engineer, was really just focused around technology and how exciting I found technology to be.

Unfortunately not everyone sees technology as exciting. Many people can see technology as something that's quite threatening, particularly when they see technology as potentially taking their jobs.

My job as the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology is to work with people throughout our communities and send a very clear message that technology is not something to be concerned about. Technology is something that is going to help each and every one of us in our everyday lives.

Now to do that, we all have to take on the responsibility of making sure that we bring all of the community with us. So, we have some highly skilled people in this room, very highly skilled people outside who have set up a range of exhibits. Our job is to make sure that that technology is understandable to as many people as possible.

Now I'll use an example. I have responsibility for the space sector in Australia and I find space incredibly exciting. Who loves space?

You know, I was so excited. I was actually at Parkes for the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon. And I can't think of anywhere else I would rather have been than where those footsteps were beamed to from throughout the world. It was just an amazing experience for me to be there.

The actual anniversary was on a Sunday. On Saturday at Parkes, about five and a half thousand people went through the facility. And I think there was upwards of six and a half thousand that went through on the Sunday.

And I guess what was important is these people were actually very interested and clearly in awe of what Neil Armstrong did 50 years before. And I think that many of them were probably looking at where we are today and looking at the technologies that we have.

And many people have watched First Man, the movie. I’m actually reading First Man the book at the moment, having seen the movie several times. But I think what people are relating it to is, wow, look at the technology we've got now, but those three people took Apollo 11 to the moon with technology that was nowhere near as sophisticated as where we are today.

Now just imagine where we might be in another 50 years. We have committed as the Government an additional $150 million into the space sector, but that's earmarked to join NASA on their mission to go to the moon and beyond to Mars. And that is not money that's going to NASA, that is money that’s going to stay in Australia to grow and develop our Australian businesses.

Now we have a lot of capability that is very applicable to the space sector. We are world leaders in automation and the example that I use regularly is the work in our mine sites in the Pilbara that are often remotely operated from Perth, 1600 kilometres away. We could be talking to NASA about how we can use the technology that we've got and develop that capability so that it could be used on the Moon to Mars missions and potentially on the International Space Station.

Robotics is a key part of our skills and expertise, as is remote health. What we're doing from Tasmania to support our scientists and other workers in Antarctica, quite frankly, is second to none globally.

All of those things are going to help us with the space race. And what it does is position Australia as an emerging country for space expertise. But that's got to be backed in by technology.

Now I believe that the work that's done by CSIRO and Data61 is just so important to the work of growing and developing our industries, not just in space but across all industries here in Australia. And a lot of the work that they do is very data driven.

Now I’m just digressing a bit to say that I represented Australia at the G20 in Japan a couple of months ago. And it was the digital economy ministers who were meeting for the first time with the trade ministers. There was a general acceptance across the G20 countries that the digital economy, technology, artificial intelligence and data were going to be driving our economies for the future. And that there were a lot of opportunities there, but there were some fairly clear risks in that.

Now I raised the issue of data. As an engineer I like data. I like data to be high integrity and I like data to be accurate, particularly when I'm using it for my decision making. So I think what we need to do, and this is where Australia has an opportunity to lead in the digital economy and particularly with data, is to look at issues surrounding artificial intelligence and ethics, and data and how it is driving artificial intelligence.

We need to make sure that if we are relying on data for decision making, that it has been proven, that it is correct. But importantly, that the data adapts as further decisions are made. So I've actually been speaking recently to some people about artificial intelligence and the drift in data that's occurring. And I think that it's really important as we start to build our systems and we look at artificial intelligence, that we deliver the capability to not just set up the AI systems, but also to maintain those systems particularly as the data starts to drift.

So I guess my point here is that we do have some pretty unique capability here in Australia. What's important is that we don't try and be all things to all people, that we look where our expertise is and that we try and extend our capability even further. So the work that we’re doing with NASA on the Moon to Mars is clearly an opportunity for us. But we shouldn't be just limiting ourselves to that.

I actually just visited one of the stands outside and we were talking about construction and the opportunities for technology and coding to be part of what we were doing with the national construction code – helping building certifiers so that the products that they were going to have to certify on a building site were already effectively cleared and checked electronically by the system, so that it is easier for them to certify buildings.

This is a really good demonstration of how technology is being used to assist us in our everyday lives. So for building certifiers, that has the potential to be a great tool. It will also help them deal with a key issue, which is insurance, because they’re required to sign off on a lot of things that it's very difficult for them to have sight of, to be able to certify.

So this is technology solving real world problems. And I guess the point that I'd like to leave you with today is that as a Government, we are absolutely committed to supporting the technology sector. It’s the technology, science and industry working hand in hand. We are committed to making sure that we build an economy, that we improve productivity and that we create jobs. And every single thing that you see me do will be with those objectives in mind.

I really congratulate CSIRO and Data61 on all the initiatives, but particularly the initiative today, over the next day or so. It's an excellent opportunity for us all to come together. I wish I had the opportunity to spend all day here because I would love it here. But congratulations for being here, for taking on this initiative. Please remember that we are all working together in the best interests of Australia and if we work together, I know that Australia will achieve great things. Thank you so much for your support and your participation.

ENDS