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Next is Now - crystal-ball gazing of the world in the post pandemic era


20 November 2020

Hello everyone and thank you for inviting me to speak today. I wish I could have been with you in person, but of course, thanks to technology I can still take part in this fantastic event.

India and Australia are both great believers in technology, and have a lot to gain in cooperating to develop the best ideas of both our nations.

Neither of us will let the COVID-19 crisis hold us back from realising these ideas, and today’s summit is a great  example of that – with the theme being Next is Now.

And now is the time for India and Australia to deepen our already strong bonds, as demonstrated in the commitment of our Prime Ministers to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

As Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, I would like to give an insight into how our two nations are working together – all the way from Cyberspace to Outer Space!

The panel discussion that follows will consider how India and Australia can innovate together in a post-COVID world in these areas.

As we all know, COVID-19 has compelled industry, researchers, governments and nations to work together to respond to the health and economic impacts of the virus.

It has highlighted the importance of science and technology in keeping us connected and finding solutions to the challenges we have faced.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has emphasised, Australia is keen to work with like-minded nations like India to meet and beat those challenges and develop economic opportunities as part of our COVID recovery and beyond.

In cyberspace, for example, Australia and India already have strong connections.

The Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership provides opportunities for cooperation on cyber security, critical and emerging technologies and the digital economy, because we know that being at the cutting edge of digital advances and skills development is essential to the success of modern economies.

Our aim is to position Australia as a leading digital economy by 2030.

As Prime Minister Morrison has said, our Government is investing almost $800 million to help our businesses improve their digital capacity.

Upgrading cyber security and online skills are particularly important for small and medium enterprises, which comprise 98 per cent of all Australian businesses.

As part of the Government’s Cyber Security Strategy 2020 we are helping to build cyber career pathways and create jobs.

This is part of our efforts to meet the estimated need for an additional 17,000 cyber professionals across the economy to 2026, from a base of 20,500 in 2018.

During the pandemic the Australian Cyber Security Centre of the Australian Signals Directorate has continued to disrupt malicious cyber activity.

The Government is collaborating with international partners like India to monitor and respond to this malicious cyber activity and share the lessons we have learnt.

The Australian Government is also investing strongly in artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing.

We are working with representatives and experts from government, academia and industry to implement our National Blockchain Roadmap. 

We are supporting two blockchain pilots focused on critical minerals and food provenance, which will reduce compliance costs and encourage broader take up of the technology.  

There are also significant opportunities in the growing quantum technology sector. 

The potential for quantum computing to accelerate discovery of new medicines through molecular simulation, and to aid in sensing mineral resources deep underground are just two examples.

Australia is home to a range of businesses focused on advancing the use and science of quantum technology.

In particular, we have a strong research capability and are home to world leading companies working out how to build quantum computing hardware. 

I also released a national AI Ethics Framework last year to guide those looking to design, develop and implement AI in Australia, and my department is working with selected Australian businesses to pilot the principles. 

These are areas which offer opportunities for cooperation with India.

Together we can shape the international discourse on cyber security, technology and AI ethics.

Following the Virtual Leaders’ Summit between Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi on 4 June this year, I announced that $15 million would go to extending the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund for another four years.

The fund is the Australian Government’s largest bilateral science program, with a total commitment now of nearly $100 million since 2006.

The fund facilitates collaboration between Australian and Indian researchers on strategically focused, leading-edge science and technology projects.

It also helps build long-term alliances between our respective research institutions and innovative businesses.

Since 2006, the fund has supported more than 350 collaborative activities, including 138 joint research projects, 33 workshops, 181 fellowships and two institutional partnerships.

These activities have ranged from collaboration in agriculture, energy and water security to astronomy, nanotechnology and vaccines.

Previous projects have included advancing research in understanding and controlling noise, which is critical to the development of quantum computers, and developing innovative battery technology to store energy from renewable sources.

Together we are also shooting for the stars, working closely on civil space activities.

This is underpinned by a formal Memorandum of Understanding signed between our two nations in 2012.

There are significant opportunities for space agencies, research organisations, and commercial sectors in both of our countries.

These include earth observation and data analytics, robotics, and space life sciences.

Our space agencies are already working together on the opportunity to position temporary Indian tracking facilities in Australia to support their space mission.

This mission will see India become just the fourth nation to send a crew into space.

The sky is the limit in what we can achieve together.

Our collaboration and friendship will only grow in the future.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak today.

I wish you all the best for the rest of the Summit and hope you will enjoy our Australian session.