Technology | Innovation

Digitisation key for growing economy

Australia needs to become digitally competitive or risk jobs and businesses going overseas, Federal Shadow Treasurer the Hon. Jason Clare has told a CEDA audience during his address at CEDA’s annual State of the Nation conference in Canberra.

Mr Clare said Australia must become a digitally literate economy to ensure that innovation and technology is at the forefront of Australia’s jobs sector, to ensure a form of “digital Darwinism” doesn’t occur in Australia’s society and economy.

“In the decades ahead, it will be the countries that transform their economies to meet this challenge the quickest, the best and the most fundamentally that will be the most successful,” Mr Clare said.

“The ones that don’t, or the ones that take too long to adjust, they’ll be the ones standing at the dock waving goodbye as jobs and businesses go overseas; watching as unemployment goes up, as GDP goes down and as disadvantage becomes more pronounced and the division between rich and poor grows wider.

“It’s not a boutique debate. I think that it’s just as important to making Australia globally competitive in the 21st century as Hawke and Keating’s reforms were in the late 20th Century.”

Mr Clare said that while it was not easy to predict the future jobs environment, it was easy to see trends.

“The report that CEDA produced in 2015 predicted that five million jobs that are currently being done in Australia are highly likely to be done by computers in the next decade or two. That’s 40 per cent of the current Australian workforce,” Mr Clare said.

“There are now 500,000 fewer secretarial jobs than there were (in 1991), the number of labourer jobs over the course of the last 25 years has dropped by about 400,000. The number of technicians and tradies has also dropped by 250,000 and the number of machinery operators has dropped by 100,000.

“In 2003 we produced 9000 IT graduates. Last year that number was at 5000.

“We are producing a smaller proportion of graduates with STEM qualifications out of our universities than our major competitors in Asia.
“According to the Deloitte report released last year, we imported about 20,000 IT workers. We will need another 100,000 of these workers in the next six years.

“About a third of them will be Australian made; graduates out of our universities. The rest of them will be done by people that we bring in from around the world.

“Over the next few decades, millions of jobs will potentially disappear and millions more will potentially be created, but they won’t necessarily be done by Australians. They won’t necessarily be done here in Australia.

“We are not competitive as we need to be.”

Mr Clare also highlighted the social consequences of an economy failing to digitise, where lack of automation leads to entrenchment of disadvantage within the community.

“Here in Australia, the gap between rich and poor is the biggest it’s been in 75 years, especially seen with the loss of jobs as the mining boom in WA ends and as house prices increase,” he said.

“In the last two years, national income per person has gone backwards. Some of this is a hangover from the GFC but it is also part of a bigger trend of increasing inequality.

“There’s a real risk that with automation and digital transformation of our economy that this gap will continue to widen and will continue to grow. We’ll continue to see the hollowing out of our middle class.

“Greater inequality means lower growth. But if we can transform our economy to meet the sort of challenges that I’m talking about today and if we can reduce this gap then our economy will be bigger and the Australia of tomorrow will be a greater place to live.”