This week has coincided with a short break in the federal parliament sitting calendar, with half the federal cabinet out of the country for various international summits and meetings. We are about to enter the final sitting fortnight of the year, when legislation gets dumped into parliament, and referred to committees – ensuring the annual cycle of policy analysts spending their summer break pouring over minutiae.
Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts led the Australian delegation to the Bengaluru Tech Summit. Known as India’s Silicon Valley, it will soon become home to Australia’s fifth diplomatic mission in India, with a new Consulate-General focused on engaging with the city’s digital economy and innovation ecosystem.
Watts was travelling to India with Dr Tobias Feakin, Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, who is leaving a role that has expanded significantly since he was appointed in January 2017. DFAT is advertising for his replacement.
The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) is also hiring a Chief Digital Officer (SES2, $289,317 - $353,895), among several other roles. The agency’s primary responsibility is managing the Digital Health Record, built by Accenture a decade ago.
The Robodebt Royal Commission is moving quickly through witnesses at its public hearings in Brisbane. Readers should note that the timing of the official inquiry is unusually short – eight months from the letters patent being issued on 18 August, to a final report being due on 18 April. This will ensure that any revelations coming out of the hearings (including the possibility of former cabinet ministers being called to testify) will enter the (usually quiet) news cycle over December and into January 2023. Twitter users have been quick to point out that in a September 2018 speech to the IPAA, then Secretary of the Department of Social Service Kathryn Campbell bemoaned that “there was not a lot of other news around” in January 2017 when in the first automated debt notices began being issued. What can we say… “Deidre Chambers, what a coincidence!”
The Federal Court has fined Telstra ($15 million), Optus ($13.5 million) and TPG ($5 million) after they each admitted making false or misleading statements to consumers regarding NBN internet speeds.
Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, wrote to Twitter owner Elon Musk expressing concern about the impact of layoffs on the platform’s capacity to respond to take-down requests. She was previously Twitter’s director of Public Policy (Australia & SE Asia) from 2014 to 2016. Twitter may also fall afoul of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation for cuts to the company’s security and privacy compliance staff.
STATE BY STATE
It was another quiet week for state and territory digital ministers.
The Queensland government launched Scams Awareness Week (7-11 November) with the theme ‘How to spot a scam’. As the ACSC’s Annual Cyber Threat report (released last week) confirms, and as any Gold Coast hustler can tell you, Queenslanders are more susceptible to scams than any other Australians. The state has also brought forward plans to introduce a two-factor verification system for people presenting drivers licences online (users will need to present both a licence number and the card number), crediting the “recent Optus data breach” for expediting the change.
The NSW Committee on Investment, Industry and Regional Development has handed down its report on Technology and the agriculture and mining sectors, following a one-year inquiry that received just 11 submissions. The report identified poor regional connectivity as a continuing barrier to uptake of technology, recommending the NSW government continue to engage with its federal counterparts through the Farms of the Future program. The state government response to the report is due 8 May 2023, which may well be under new management according to the latest polls.
We are getting through Summit Season; with the ASEAN summit now behind us, both COP27 in Cairo (6-18 November) and the G20 in Bali (15-16 November) underway, and APEC in Bangkok to follow later this week (18-20 November). On Thursday, UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will unveil the Autumn Statement, a mid-cycle update that is now going to function as a “Budget in all but name.”
Digital Twin goes global (literally)
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has partnered with Lockheed Martin and tech firm NVIDIA to create a Digital Twin of Earth, which will model the impact of climate change and associated meteorological events. The “two-dimensional” Earth Observation Digital Twin (EODT) will collate a wide array of data from real-time satellite and ground stations to historical records into a single visualisation for use by researchers. Although popularly known for their manufacture of high-performance graphics processing units (GPUs), NVIDIA is also a leader in supercomputing and artificial intelligence technology. NVIDIA now offers the Omniverse platform which is designed to support the creation of large-scale digital twins such as the EODT. Fans of Lewis Carroll may be reminded of Mein Herr and his maps.
Dutch robodebt leads to mandatory AI register
From next month, the Dutch government will implement a mandatory algorithm register for public sector use of AI across the country. The system is based on a register originally created by the City of Amsterdam, with public servants also required to submit an evaluation of potential human rights impacts to the register before using AI. The move follows a massive childcare benefits scandal which brought down the national government in 2021. Eerily similar to Services Australia’s robodebt scandal, the Dutch tax office used an algorithm to match data with child support payments, wrongly accusing 20,000 families of fraud over a period of six years.