Techtonic 2.0 - National Summit on Artificial Intelligence



Thank you Mark (MC Mark Pesce) for that introduction.

I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand and pay my respects to elders past and present.

It is a pleasure to be able to address this National Summit on Artificial Intelligence.

As our economy becomes increasingly digital and data driven, AI technologies will continue to add to our prosperity and wellbeing, and will continue to be necessary as we recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While AI was once only the subject of science fiction movies (admittedly, most of them dystopian), and then a tool to beat grandmasters in chess, it is now undoubtedly making meaningful improvements in so many of our lives. 

It is solving national problems; improving our health, our safety and our businesses.

For instance, Entrepreneurs at Sydney-based start-up DetectED X are using AI to read lung scans. 

The CSIRO and the National Council for Emergency Services, have partnered to develop a bushfire modelling and prediction tool, Spark Operational.

The Smart Shield Anti-Phishing System is a project using machine learning and AI to help businesses stay one step ahead of phishing scams.

AI Action Plan

As part of the Government’s $124 million commitment announced in the May Budget to support the development and use of AI in Australia, I am pleased to today launch Australia’s first ever AI Action Plan.

Our AI Action Plan is the culmination of considerable consultation, including with many of you, through a process which commenced as part of the inaugural Techtonic summit.

Late last year, the Government called for your views on the development of an AI Action Plan. This saw around 90 submissions, and I’m sure many of you attending today would have been amongst those providing your feedback. 

That process saw feedback from industry, academia and civil society. I want to thank all of those that were part of that process for their contributions, which has informed the Government’s approach, and the measures that have been developed.

As a result of that process, the Government has identified four focus areas that will drive our decisions and support for AI, and which I’ll speak to:

  1. Developing and adopting AI to transform Australian businesses
  2. Creating an environment to grow and attract the world’s best AI talent
  3. Using cutting edge AI technologies to solve Australia’s national challenges
  4. Making Australia a global leader in responsible and inclusive AI.

Developing and adopting AI to transform Australian businesses

Our first focus area is driving the development and adoption of AI technologies to transform Australian businesses. The actions we are taking will support the uptake of AI across sectors and across industries – that includes those AI businesses and start-ups working to develop the next breakthrough in AI use. It will also support our existing manufacturing industries innovate using AI. 

And it also means encouraging the hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized enterprises around the country to see how incorporating AI can help their business.

And a key way we’re doing this is the inclusion in this year’s Budget of $53.8 million to establish the National AI Centre, and four AI and Digital Capability Centres.

The National AI Centre will coordinate the nation’s AI expertise and capabilities, and support businesses to develop and adopt AI technologies.

The National AI Centre will be established within CSIRO’s Data61, and will be launched later in the year. The Centre will have amongst its core roles, to support projects that lift AI business capability across multiple sectors, to:

  • foster collaboration between businesses and researchers
  • increase commercialisation and attract investment, and 
  • work across Australia’s entire AI ecosystem.

Our four Capability Centres will be industry-led partnerships. They will provide small and medium enterprises with:

  • connections to AI equipment, tools and research, 
  • access to advice and training, and 
  • links with AI experts.

These four Centres will be selected through an open competitive, merit-based process and will focus on specific areas of application of AI. The Government will be opening applications for parties interested in hosting these AI and Digital Capability Centres in the coming months. 

Last month’s Budget also included $12 million to promote AI opportunities in our regions by co-funding up to 36 competitive grants to develop AI solutions that address local or regional problems.

These grants will ensure the benefits of AI are delivered in regional communities.  Successful applicants will receive competitive, co-funded grants of $250,000 to $1 million. Joint applicants will be invited to apply – for example, a joint application with regional businesses and research institution partners. Applicants can include universities and publicly funded research bodies, technology companies and regional businesses, including SMEs and start ups.

These new initiatives build on work already underway to build Australia’s AI capability. For example, the Government has invested $43.7 million through Cooperative Research Centres Projects in 21 AI-focused projects.

This support has helped companies like Seeing Machines to develop new technologies. Their computer vision technology helps to monitor fatigue amongst commercial transport drivers and has reduced fatigue events by more than 90 per cent.

It is also important to recognise that these targeted investments are part of broader policies that support innovations in AI. A great example is our $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy, which is funding projects in areas that have the potential to deliver long‑term transformational outcomes for the Australian economy. 

Those National Manufacturing Priorities are:

  • Resources Technology & Critical Minerals Processing
  • Food & Beverage
  • Medical products
  • Recycling & Clean Energy
  • Defence, and
  • Space

There are already countless examples of how AI is improving each of these industries, whether that’s:

  • working to detect brain aneurysms on scans faster, through the collaboration between Fujitsu Australia, GE Healthcare, Macquarie University and Radian Network; or 
  • the AI enabled autonomous sorting for plastic recycling that’s occurring at Advanced Circular Polymers in Victoria. 

And I’m sure that many of you would agree that AI has much more to offer each of these industries. I believe AI could play an important role in bringing about transformative changes to Australian manufacturers.

We are also supporting businesses to go digital, including the use of AI, through our Digital Business-to-Business Partnerships Initiative and our expanded Digital Solutions Advisory Services that will help 17,000 small businesses adopt technologies. 

There are also the broader settings that we know help businesses of all shapes and sizes, including those focussed on AI. Those settings range from:

  • our $600 million Entrepreneurs’ Programme that delivers grants to help commercialisation, to 
  • tax settings that include the Research and Development Tax Incentive, and tax offsets and capital gains tax exemptions for venture capital investments.

Creating an environment to grow and attract the world’s best AI talent

Our second focus area is ensuring our businesses have access to world-class AI expertise. While Australia already produces some of the most talented AI professionals, the need for more expertise in AI is clear. To achieve this, the Government is taking action that will ensure Australians have the skills to engage with the digital economy, and to ensure we are ready for the jobs of the future.

This year’s Budget included our Next Generation AI Graduates program. It will provide $24.7 million to increase Australia’s specialist AI talent through targeted scholarships. It will address industry skills shortages and train diverse cohorts of AI students on industry projects desired and needed by industry.

This investment will support 234 scholarships. It will build Australia’s pipeline of home-grown, job-ready AI specialists. We know that businesses have raised the shortage of top-end AI talent as a pressing barrier to the deployment of AI technology.

It is our hope that this Program will see high performing students undertaking industry-focused research projects and placements to build real-world experience. And that it will provide a mechanism for industry to play a more hands-on role in developing this much needed talent. 

Universities will be invited to apply to host these scholarship soon, and the Government looks forward to working with the sector on the delivery of this initiative. 

That new commitment from this year’s Budget will build on:

  • more than $200 million that has been awarded by the Australian Research Council on projects, linkages and fellowships that involve AI since 2018, and
  • the $20 million the Government committed to establish the Centre for Augmented Reasoning at the University of Adelaide. 

As well as this, policies that help Australians improve their digital skills provide a range of pathways to improve AI literacy and education, across a range of intensity levels. 

That includes projects directly focused on the development of cyber security skills, and the Digital Skills Cadetship Trial. It also includes the Skill Finder initiative that allows Australians to access free online courses provided by the world’s leading tech companies, including courses on AI from Microsoft, Google and IBM. 

More broadly, our Job Ready Graduates package will ensure that Australian students have the skills needed most by employers, and our JobTrainer fund is providing additional training places in fields such as IT. At the same time, the Government is continuing work on better translation and commercialisation of university research. 

Using cutting edge AI technologies to solve Australia’s national challenges

Our third focus area is about harnessing cutting edge AI technologies to find solutions to challenges. The potential that AI has in this regard is something, I’m sure, I don’t need to convince you of. 

We are investing $33.7 million in new funding announced in last month’s Budget to support Australian businesses to partner with government to pilot projects that will use AI to solve national challenges, which will be determined by government.

Challenges will focus the industry sectors of AI specialisation identified in the AI Technology Roadmap, National Science and Research Priorities, CSIRO Missions, as well as supporting the Modern Manufacturing Strategy.

Australian Government agencies will work with successful grantees to implement the pilot projects. At the conclusion of the pilot government agencies will have an opportunity to procure the AI solution. Grantees will retain the intellectual property of their solution, providing them with an opportunity to commercialise their work.

This measure also builds on existing policies of government. Already, government-funded initiatives such as CSIRO’s Machine Learning and AI Future Science Platform, the Medical Research Future Fund, and investments in AI to support Defence are helping Australia address significant national issues through artificial intelligence. 

Other measures across government are providing the platform to solve significant problems.

That ranges from our National Digital Health Strategy, to our Business Research and Innovation Initiative. 

Another new initiative as part of our Digital Economy Strategy was our Digital Atlas of Australia. Through this, the Government will deliver a three-dimensional Digital Atlas of Australia's geography, bringing together the wealth of government data on people, the economy, employment, infrastructure, health, land and the environment into a single national data asset. 

Making Australia a global leader in responsible and inclusive AI

Our final focus area is on making sure Australia is a leader in responsible and inclusive AI use and development.

While the potential for AI is extraordinary, that potential could be undermined if there is a lack of trust in this technology. 

The Government released our AI Ethics Framework in 2019 to guide businesses and governments developing and implementing AI in Australia. The AI Ethics Framework affirms our commitment to the OECD Principles on AI – to promote AI that is innovative, trustworthy and that respects human rights and democratic values.

The Government will continue to encourage the take up of these principles, both within government, but also within industry. A number of companies have been piloting these principles in the course of their businesses, and the Government has today published case studies from this pilot.

Ultimately however, it is most important that the benefits of AI continue to be promoted and shared. 

This of course must be promoted by ensuring that broader settings and policies best balance the importance and value of information sharing with protections for individuals. The Government is seeking to achieve this through measures such as the Privacy Act, our Australian Data Strategy and Consumer Data Right. 

But to truly develop AI that’s responsible and inclusive, it mustn’t only be for all Australians, but by all Australians. Most notably, we know that women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, including amongst the Information and Computer Technology workforce. 

As part of our policies to address that disparity, the Government announced the Boosting the Next Generation of Women in STEM program as part of last month’s Budget. That program will provide $42.4 million to support around 500 industry led scholarships for women in STEM disciplines. 

This initiative will build on other measures that aim to support female start ups and entrepreneurs, such as the Boosting Female Founders and Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants. 


Through the actions being taken under each of these four focus areas, and the significant ongoing investment in the uptake and development of AI that goes with them, the Government believes that Australia can become a world leading digital economy and society – and a global leader in the development and adoption of trusted, secure and responsible AI.

But, of course, this goal also wouldn’t be possible without the incredibly vital role of so many of you here today have already played, and the vital role so many of you will, I’m sure, continue to play. 

It wouldn’t be possible without your passion for AI, without your brilliant ideas, without the support you provide to others within the ecosystem, and without your desire to make sure it’s developed for the benefit of society. 

And so I thank you all for the contributions so many of you have made, and I hope that this summit provides an opportunity for you all to further reflect, learn and test views on how to best harness the value of AI. 

Together we can help make Australia a world leading AI nation and set ourselves up for the economic and human value it can deliver.