June 2021

Budget Bill

This budget has been about the economic recovery from COVID. On that score, we've made a great deal of progress. Unemployment figures out last week, as people here would be aware, showed that the unemployment rate is now down to 5.1 per cent, at a level not seen since before the pandemic. We had 115,000 new jobs created last month, in the month of May. Our economy is larger than it was going into the pandemic. We are one of only eight economies in the world that have maintained a AAA credit rating throughout this. On that score, we have a good record.

But this budget is also about ensuring our growth and prosperity in Australia in the medium to longer term, and digital here is really the key to the future. I think, as members here would be aware, the nature of value-creation and the nature of jobs and employment are changing. What we're increasingly seeing is that value-creation is characterised more by electrons than atoms. It's not so much about physical goods as about virtual goods and information and the flows of data. Increasingly, it's spaces rather than places that matter: virtual spaces and virtual marketplaces, rather than physical places and physical offices. Increasingly, it's about services rather than products, whether you're using cloud based storage services, or renting accounting services like Xero or ridesharing services, for instance. This is the way that the economy is changing and this is how the nature of value-creation is changing.

I think, in this sort of a world, Australia actually has a huge number of potential advantages. One of the burdens we've laboured under for most of the modern era is the tyranny of distance—our long distance from marketplaces and the fact that it costs a lot to get physical goods to our customers. Well, in this new era, when what's being created is almost frictionless to move a long distance and across jurisdictions, Australia is well positioned. We are also well positioned because we've got a highly skilled workforce, we've got high-quality tertiary education institutions, we've got companies and institutions that spend a large amount on research and development, and we are a very attractive place to live, to settle, to invest and to locate, and we've only become more so through this pandemic because of how we've performed in health terms.

So this is why I think it's incredibly important that this budget allocates a substantial amount of money in new investments and further drives the uptake of the digital economy and digital technology across all sectors of the Australian economy. There's $1.2 billion worth of measures up here. We've got our Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, which provides $124 million to use AI to help modernise manufacturing and farming activities, improve the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and also enhance our defence capabilities. This AI Action Plan will also fund four centres to bring together industry, peak bodies and technical specialists and help connect small and medium enterprises to AI tools and research and provide SMEs with advice and training so they can confidently adopt AI technologies.

We are also investing over $100 million to support digital skills for Australians, to make sure that Australians are prepared for the workplace of the future, which includes competitive national scholarships to train at least 234 home-grown AI specialists and help address the shortage of specialists which businesses report as being one of the most pressing challenges for them in adopting new technologies. We are also putting almost $120 million into investment incentives for digital technologies that create jobs, including the digital games tax offset, to help make Australia an attractive destination for the rapidly expanding global gaming sector.

We are providing funding of $40 million to Geoscience Australia to help create a three-dimensional digital atlas of Australia's geography, bringing together a wealth of government data, on people, economy, employment, infrastructure, health, land, the environment and weather patterns into a single national data asset that will help open new economic, social and technological opportunities, from supporting bushfire response and modelling to helping manage feral animals and weeds, virtually designing new roads and helping with major infrastructure projects.

Finally, digital technologies are also changing how Australians and businesses interact with the government. Australians rightly expect continuous improvement from government, in the same way they do from their other service providers. That's why we're spending almost half a billion dollars in enhancing digital government service delivery, which will allow Australians better access to government services online.

In short, this budget is a transformative one. It contains public investment to accelerate the uptake of the latest technology in both the public and private spheres. I ask the minister representing the finance minister here if he could please comment on the importance of technological modernisation, the uptake of the digital economy and the need for public-private collaboration in taking this forward.