Time to be smart about the digital economy

There’s no escaping it. Our future belongs in the digital economy. In my lifetime, I’ve been lucky to see extraordinary strides in information and communications technology, bringing the world together like never before. These innovations have changed the way we live our lives in ways we never imagined. Who would have thought that we’d all be carrying glass rectangles around in our pockets with access to the sum of human knowledge? These innovations pose new challenges and new opportunities.

In my capacity as a Lake Macquarie City Councillor and as the Secretary of the Hunter Digital Industry Growth & Innovation Taskforce (Hunter DIGIT), I’ve been engaged with people dedicated to finding solutions to these challenges and coming up with ways to make the most of these opportunities. In the long term, this will require smart, adaptive policy from all levels of Government.

We can’t take on these opportunities and challenges constrained by yesterday’s thinking. As I pointed out, nobody saw the smartphone coming. In the 19th century, an American Patent Office Commissioner said that “the advancement of the arts… seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.” If the last century, if the last decade, has proven anything, it’s that the capacity for human improvement may well be limitless.

Bill Shorten’s proposal that coding be taught to young students must be taken seriously—the digital frontier is where most of today’s young people will make their livelihoods. Despite recent setbacks, we must work hard to ensure the National Broadband Network is refined and completed. It may well be the most important national infrastructure project since the Snowy Mountain Scheme.

At the state level, the South Australian government’s commitment to legislating for the digital future has been made clear. In all likelihood, it won’t be long before driverless cars start appearing on our roads and we’ve got to have the legislative and regulatory framework in place for when that happens. We need to negotiate and determine the role that the “sharing economy”, including services like Uber and Airbnb, will play in our society.

I’m heartened that, despite short-sighted thinking on the part of some our leaders, commitment to embracing our shared digital future is bipartisan. A recent op-ed piece, written jointly by Labor’s Ed Husic and Liberal Wyatt Roy, focused on the importance of digital infrastructure as we move into the twenty-first century. Their case study was the US state of Massachusetts, but it’s happening all over the world.

On a recent trip to Europe, I witnessed first-hand the changes that the Smart Cities initiative has made to Amsterdam, allowing the city’s managers to harness the vast amount of data at their fingertips to deliver better services and management for Amsterdammers and tourists alike.

The Hunter has a chance to be at the forefront of the digital economy to both inspire our young people, enable our home grown innovators, and attract tech talent from across the country to bring their expertise and businesses to the Hunter.  I am working with stakeholders across the community and all levels of government to harness the future, but a complicated set of policy questions remains in front of us.  We all need to be part of the conversation and we all need to be ready for tomorrow.  

This was my opinion piece published in the Newcastle Herald on 16 September 2015


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