Interview with Rosanna Lockwood, CNBC
13th July 2021
This week leaders from the tech industry and top government officials converged on Singapore for the inaugural Asia Tech x Summit to talk about key challenges and opportunities in Asia’s digital economy. Rosanna Lockwood is on the ground. Ros, you can’t talk about tech without talking about data, which is being described as the new oil.
You caught me there - that’s exactly what I was going to tell you. And, you know, that was a few years ago now, that people were describing data as one day being as valuable as oil, and I think we’ve certainly reached that point. No mentions on actually the value of oil at this point. But with regards to data, really interesting when you think about governments scaling up their economies, digitalizing their economies, you can do that at scale, but when you do, it does mean that you’ve got vast amounts of personal data, and there’s often a lag in trust surrounding that data as well. Trust doesn’t scale as fast as digitalization. So, there’s a few challenges for governments to keep up with here.
And then once you’ve got the data, how do you safely process it and store it? The pandemic, of course, has shone a real light on this with regards to things like track and trace technology, and also just people’s personal health data as well.
So, to start this conversation I’m really pleased to say that we’re joined by Jane Hume, who is Australia’s Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Digital Economy. She’s also the Minister for Women’s Economic Security. She’s actually speaking on a panel here at the Asia Tech x Singapore summit on data and the safe use of data in about 2 hours from now. So, we’re pleased to have you, Minister, to talk through some of this. And if we can start by talking a little bit about Australia’s digital strategy. You’ve got this strategy document leading up to 2030. You’ve got an ambitious plan to become a world leading digital economy by then. But can request ask you what impact the pandemic has had on that road map?
Rosanna, it’s great to be with you. And it’s fabulous to join you here at the summit today. Yes, Australia has a very ambitious target to be a leading digital economy and society by 2030. And I was very proud to stand alongside our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, which that digital economy strategy was launched as part of this year’s Australian economic budget. And it contains a number of initiatives that will enhance Australia’s ability to leverage the digital economy and to create the jobs of the future.
So that includes things like the 124 million dollar AI action plan that will grow and create talent and transform Australian businesses and solve national challenges; a digital skills investment, so important in thousands of free or discounted training places; and competitive scholarships for the emerging tech graduates of the future; and also things like e-invoicing, modernised business registers and, of course, a consumer data right, not just in open banking but across the economy, that will accelerate digitisation of Australian businesses.
So, you know, Australia already has a high level of tech adoption. We have very high levels of connectivity building on the foundations of a national broadband network and 5G rollout, and we also have a sense of fairness, of safety and of trusted data source, which we’re building on as part of our digital economy strategy. So, we’re taking those foundations to the next level.
You mentioned there this document, this consumer data right. Now, in the current 2021-22 budget you allocated just north of $111 million for that. Can you just give us a little more detail on what it means for Australians and their data?
Well, that 111 million actually builds on 140 million that’s previously been invested in the consumer data right. But whatever it is that the government has invested in in the consumer data right our private sector has amplified that, you know, tenfold. You know, the consumer data right essentially puts the consumer, people, back into control of the private sector data that they generate by safely and securely allowing data to be shared with an accredited third-party provider, but with the express consent of the consumer. So, it’s a fundamentally user-centred concept that empowers consumers.
You know, consumers generate data in ways that they don’t even realise whenever they make a credit card transaction, for instance. You know, often the banks will use that data, extract it and then sell it on. This model, in fact, puts the consumers back into control. They own their own data, and they can leverage that for their own benefit. But not only that, the Consumer Data Right, also boosts competition in markets and it really drives data-driven innovation as well.
And while we’re starting with open banking, we’re rolling it out across the economy next to the energy sector, then to telecommunications, potentially to insurance, to superannuation, you know, even loyalty cards can use the consumer data right. It puts the consumer back in control of their own data, drive better innovation but also, most importantly, get a better deal and lower the cost of living.
Now, when we think about people having trust in the processing and storage of data, cyber security is a big part of that. And I notice alongside this in the budget you’re also investing around $43.8 million in upskilling cyber security through a fund. Has there suddenly become a sense of urgency to do that?
I think, again, that builds on good work that’s previously been done. We invested $1.67 billion just in 2020 on improving cyber security, making sure that we have the skills for the future, but we have also the technology there that’s available not just to government but also to businesses as well.
And AI, Australia is doing some really interesting things with AI, particularly in some of your core sectors like mining. What can you tell us about that?
Well, as part of the digital economy strategy we’re also have a $124 million AI strategy. Again, it’s about making sure that we have the skills, you know, the graduates in the future, you know, the employees of the future for this really important sector, but, most importantly, we want to make sure that AI can be effectively used by government and by the private sector, too. You know, it’s expected that AI’s estimated to contribute around $20 trillion to the global economy by 2030. We know that AI can transform Australian businesses and it can also solve national challenges.
Minister, one of the other key themes being discussed today around basically all the pillars’ cryptocurrencies. Can you see crypto currencies and things like central bank digital currencies forming a greater part of Australia’s strategy?
Well, we know that central bank digital currencies are a hot topic right now, not just in Australia but right around the world. The Reserve Bank of Australia has done some work and doesn’t necessarily believe that there is a case at the moment for a retail central bank digital currency. But it is looking at both the policy and the technology implications of a wholesale CBCC - CBDC.
Yeah, it can be a tricky one to say that. Jane Hume, Minister for Superannuation, Digital Economy and Financial Services for Australia, thanks so much for joining us this morning.