27 July 2021

Address to CEDA


AI: Innovation in Action


Hello everyone, it’s great to be here today discussing a topic of such significance as the current and future possibilities of artificial intelligence.

Technology is firmly woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and the challenges and opportunities it presents us are changing rapidly.

AI, along with other digital technologies, will play an increasingly important role in our economy and society over the next decade and beyond.

As we continue to vault forward in this space, Government has a pivotal role to play as an enabler, and as a standard setter - particularly in regards to ethics.


Before I talk about the opportunities and challenges AI presents, I’d like to talk about the fuel behind it - and that’s data.

Open data, big data, meta-data, real-time data.

With the development of technologies and devices such as the Internet of Things - fridges that order more of your favourite almond milk when you’re running low - advanced communications, and data analytics techniques - data is constantly being created, collected, shared and analysed all around us - and with increasing intimacy.

According to Statista, more than half of the world’s population is online. In January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active internet users around the world - that’s almost 60 per cent of the world’s population.

As of 2018, it’s estimated that globally we’re creating over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day (and for those of you that don’t know - and I had to look it up - a quintillion has 18 zeros). And what’s more, 90 per cent of all the data in the world at that time had been produced in the two years prior.

Contemplate that acceleration - keeping in mind 2018 was a pre-COVID and pre-Working-From-Home world.

This trend is not slowing, it is a defining factor of our era. Just as ubiquitous access to oil fuelled industrialisation in the 18th and 19th century, data is fuelling a 21st century digital revolution.

Through sophisticated pattern recognition, machine learning and data visualisation tools - AI can help us harness these masses of data, the world around us, and indeed the very nature of ourselves - faster, more efficiently and with greater accuracy.

With enough data, not only can we get a picture of what is happening, but we can start to predict what happens next. And the possibilities are endless. If that doesn’t excite you I have to wonder why you’ve signed up for this session!

The Government’s Role in AI

From a government services perspective, AI can lead to improved evidence based decision making and better outcomes for citizens. We’re already reaching forward to grasp the nettle here. 

  • The CSIRO is working on terrific projects to leverage AI. From attaching micro-sensor backpacks to bees to understand risks to their population, to modelling the complex nature of bushfires to help manage their spread.
  • AI is also being used: 
    • for infrastructure management to detect water pipe failure saving millions of dollars in maintenance; 
    • And to develop spatial digital twins of buildings, neighbourhoods, and cities for better planning and to improve the quality of life for the people who live and work there.
  • In Australia’s magnificent Kakadu National Park, AI is helping rangers and Traditional Owners reinvigorate the population of magpie geese by detecting and removing noxious weeds introduced in the 60s that have been crippling the native species.

AI truly has the capacity to improve the lives and experiences of all Australians across the board. 

And while society will benefit from AI, the private sector will profit from AI and academia will advance new technologies and use cases, the Government has a significant responsibility too.  To ensure that AI - as an industry as well as a technology - has every chance to flourish, making sure we have the right settings, skills and expertise in place to ensure Australia is a global forerunner.

Which brings me back to my initial contention - the government has two roles to play - as an enabler, and as a standards setter - particularly in regards to ethics.

First, on the areas in which we’re acting as an enabler.

Government as an Enabler - Digital Economy Strategy and AI Action Plan

This year I announced, alongside the Prime Minister, the government’s 1.2 billion dollar Digital Economy Strategy. It is designed as a living roadmap that will evolve as technology does, with an ambitious goal of Australia being a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

Through the Digital Economy Strategy, we envision a future where:

  • all businesses will be digital businesses;
  • all Australians will have access to digital skills and technology;
  • government service delivery will be frictionless;
  • regulation will be fit for purpose and will build trust;
  • and we have integrated data and technologies that make life better and easier.

The Digital Economy reaches across portfolios to coordinate a whole of government response to a national imperative. We don’t want Australia to simply keep up, we want to lead, and show others the way.

A key feature of the Digital Economy Strategy is an additional 124 million dollar commitment to AI initiatives. The AI Action Plan complements work that has already been taken across government, particularly the CSIRO’s AI Roadmap. With this new commitment, the government has invested close to half-a-billion dollars in support to AI initiatives since 2018. 

CSIRO suggests AI technology alone will contribute 22 trillion dollars into the global economy by 2030.

That’s 15 times Australia’s entire GDP generated by one technology in less than 10 years.

So you can see an investment into the digital economy is an investment in Australia’s future prosperity.

COVID-19 changed the way we engage with digital technologies. For some, it provided a life-line. For others, increased opportunity. We did more online than we ever imagined we could or would.

Somewhere in between teaching the grandparents how to videoconference and colleagues how to mute, we managed to accelerate our digital uptake by about a decade.

And that is no exaggeration.

A study by McKinsey found that in March 2020, digital uptake for consumers and businesses had vaulted forward five years in just eight weeks.

And the AI Action Plan will build on this momentum - supporting businesses to invest in their own digital transformation and deliver globally competitive products and services.

Its focus is on four pillars, which are:

  • lifting the development and adoption of AI to create jobs and boost productivity; 
  • growing and attract world-class talent and expertise; 
  • harnessing our world-leading AI capabilities to solve national challenges and benefit all Australians; 
  • and ensuring AI technologies are responsible, inclusive and reflect Australian values.

And here I should stress that this is a strategy based on partnership between the Morrison Government and Australian research excellence, industry capability, business and consumer confidence. 

Government is an enabler in this space - but we need the brilliant minds of those who live and breathe it every day to continue propelling us into the future.

We want to connect researchers with industry and talent to increase business adoption of AI technologies - achieving increased productivity and revenue gains. Which is why the Government is investing 53.8 million dollars to create a National AI Centre and four Digital Capability Centres. 

On a practical level, this will see 24.7 million dollars used towards co-funding the Next Generation of AI Graduates Program, to attract and train the next generation of Aussie AI experts.

The Action Plan also provides 33.7 million dollars for AI-based solutions to partner with industry to solve some of Australia’s biggest challenges, such as energy consumption. 

And 12 million dollars to catalyse AI in our regions - creating solutions to the specific challenges facing our regions and leveraging our areas of competitive advantage in agriculture and minerals.

Government and Standard Setting 

These plans and strategies are about enhancing and enabling.

But with accelerating growth, we must lead in setting the right standards. We must ensure that AI is ethical, responsible and inclusive.

Here, the Action Plan progresses the implementation of Australia’s AI Ethics Principles. These 8 Principles are designed to help achieve safer and more reliable outcomes for all Australians - encouraging business and government to practice the highest ethical standards when designing, developing and implementing AI.

The principles include:

  • that AI systems should respect human rights - such as privacy, diversity, and autonomy; 
  • that AI systems should be reliable in operating for their intended purpose; 
  • That there should be transparency with its use so people can reasonably know when they are engaging with AI
  • and that there should be human oversight, with the people responsible for AI systems being identifiable and accountable for their outcomes.

We want to maximise the opportunities that AI presents to us - to improve our daily lives. But equally we do not want to subsume the intangible but fundamental things that make our human lives rich today with the technology to make life easier.

Consumer Data Right

Already, we’ve demonstrated our form in this area with the Consumer Data Right, a foundational pillar of the digital economy moving forward - as individuals and businesses rightly expect more access and control over the data collected about them.

The CDR kicked off with Open Banking last year and it is now being implemented in energy, and soon to be rolled out to the telecommunications sector.

Australia is leading the world on this exciting reform - taking a whole-of-economy, consumer-led approach that will transform the way we use data - a subject for a whole other CEDA speech that I hope I get the chance to deliver another day.


So let me finish with this -

These are extraordinary times, with endless opportunities.

But the momentum the Morrison Government is putting behind this sector is not about winning some global race for its own sake.

It’s about using technology to make Australians’ lives better.

Using data to make better decisions.

It’s about creating more jobs and ensuring Australia plays a leading role.

We are leveraging the unique advantages of our nation to build on Australia’s strong foundations, and secure our economic future.

Because now is the time to build on and beyond those foundations. Australia’s future prosperity depends on it and the Morrison Government is committed to getting us there.