Australia unveiled its federal budget last week and our own Budget 2023 released on Thursday will set the tone for the months leading up to the general election in September.
It could be Labour’s last chance to match its rhetoric around innovation and the digital economy with some resources to make things happen. Since 2017, science and innovation funding has remained largely static in real terms and we’ve lagged other countries in launching the skills push that will be crucial as technology like artificial intelligence changes the nature of work.
The Government need only look across the Tasman at Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ budget allocations to see how a close neighbour is investing in skills and technology for economic growth.
AI & quantum
This week saw A$392 million allocated for grants as part of a Industry Growth Program to support building a pipeline of investment-ready startups. There was $101 million for fostering emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing and $151 million to go towards the AUKUS agreement with the US and the UK, where advanced technologies are being developed that will be shared between those three countries.
There’s $2 billion for government ICT upgrades and cybersecurity continues to get a focus with $58 million for establishing a national Anti-scam Centre and $23.4 million for small business cybersecurity initiatives. These funding allocations follow some generous budgets for tech and innovation under the Liberals and a massive ramp-up of cybersecurity investment.
Our own investments have been modest in comparison and it has started to show – we are slipping down world rankings of innovation and R&D spending. We haven’t set ourselves up to seize the opportunities emerging technologies present.
Still, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said late last month that this budget, while largely no-frills, will focus on science, tech, skills and infrastructure. The latter will no doubt include some big ticket items as the Government seeks to repair roads, bridges and rail links in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.
But its a promising sign at least that there will be some budget allocations in areas, where there has only been rhetoric to date. The science system, funded to the tune of $1.6 billion will likely get a top-up as the country’s science and innovation strategy finally takes shape. New national research priorities are being established to steer that investment. The skills stream of work outlined in the Digital Industry Transformation Plan may also get some much-needed financial backing.
Labour has been under pressure to do more to do improve the prospects of our early-stage tech companies and Ginney Andersen has hinted that there may be some relief for our video games industry which is strugglinfg to remain competitive in the face of generous state and federal tax subsidies on offer in Australia.
Hipkins said last month that he had a “personal interest” in science, tech, skills and innovation, which hasn’t really come out in his speeches and interviews, though education is obviously close to his heart.
So we will wait and see what Thursday’s budget brings. I’m hoping for signs that the Government acknowledges the true potential of the digital economy and is finally prepared to put the support in place to realise it.
Check out this Business of Tech podcast interview earlier in the week with Ginney Andersen – also featuring New York Times best-selling author Ashlee Vance on his new book about Rocket Lab and its competitors.