Think tank calls for commonwealth to appoint chief technologist

By Shannon Jenkins

May 19, 2021

NSW wants government money to be invested for digital service improvements across health, education and infrastructure. (Image: Adobe/Blue Planet Studio)

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has proposed that the federal government appoint a chief technologist to support stronger stewardship of Australia’s technology agenda.

The recommendation has been put forward in a new research report that outlines ways that Australia can become a leading digital nation. It comes a week after the government announced a $1.2 billion Digital Economy Strategy.

COVID-19 has proven that a proactive technology agenda is critical to driving future jobs, growth and prosperity, and enhancing the wellbeing and quality of life of Australians, according to CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento.

“There is much to be gained from our turbocharged take up of digital technologies over the past year, and the new sources of data this has created,” she said in a statement.

“They must be harnessed to deliver new opportunities for all Australians.”

Former attorney-general Christian Porter was recently appointed as the minister for industry, science and technology, becoming the seventh federal technology minister in just eight years.

Technology has undergone a rapid change over those eight years. However, the ‘ministerial churn’ has undermined Australia’s ability to build expertise and future capability, CEDA noted.

READ MORE: Did someone drop a zero? Australia’s digital economy budget spend should be 10 times bigger

Cilento has argued that Australia must do more if it wants to be a leading digital nation by 2030, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed.

“What is missing, however, is clarity about what this means, how we get there and how Australia can manage the opportunities and risks of emerging tech while retaining community support. Building and maintaining community trust around data and technology will be critical,” she said.

The government should follow in the footsteps of countries like the US, Canada, and Israel by appointing a chief technologist, CEDA has argued, to support stronger stewardship of Australia’s technology agenda while maintaining public trust.

The think tank proposed that the chief technologist be responsible for guiding the development and implementation of digital and tech strategies, and communicating the opportunities, challenges and risks of emerging technologies.

The chief technologist should also promote greater capability within government to respond to technology issues, and oversee the creation of robust and transparent technology assessments that provide objective advice on emerging technologies, their potential impacts and policy implications.

Through their role, the chief technologist could raise understanding of critical data and tech issues among policy makers and the wider community, and promote Australia’s interests in international forums.

CEDA, in its research report, has also urged the government to enable collaboration across states and territories, and ensure public trust is considered when technologies are developed to identify and address risks early.

READ MORE: NSW invests $1.6b in digital infrastructure fund


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