Remarks, The 2021 ASPI Sydney Dialogue

17 Nov 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Thank you Peter.

It’s wonderful to join you for the inaugural Sydney Dialogue.

Sydney, my hometown, is Australia’s largest city and the ancient home of the Gadigal people.

One of Australia’s many Indigenous peoples who have cared for this continent for over 60,000 years.

I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

And I also acknowledge any servicemen and women and veterans who are joining us – including those who have served with our allies and partners – and I thank them all very much for their service.

Let me begin by applauding the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) for its initiative in establishing this Sydney Dialogue.

And for giving a home to what promises to be the world’s premier annual summit on emerging, critical and cyber technologies and their strategic significance.

I want to particularly recognise the leadership and stewardship of Peter Jennings, ASPI’s Executive Director since 2012.

As we all know, technological change has helped deliver enormous human progress - in better health, longer life expectancy, wider learning, more leisure and greater prosperity.

Yet experience has also taught us that it brings new challenges, unanticipated consequences and enhanced risks.

Our time of rapid technological change is no different.

It corresponds with profound global challenges - from the immediate threats posed by COVID-19 and related economic disruption to climate change and geostrategic competition.

Technology is at the centre of how we now respond to all these challenges.

The simple fact is that nations at the leading edge of technology have greater economic, political and military power.

And, in turn, greater capacity to influence the norms and values that will shape technological development in the years to come.

Nowhere is this more powerfully illustrated than in the Indo-Pacific region — the world’s strategic centre of gravity.

So this inaugural Sydney Dialogue is very timely.

Australia knows that our future security and prosperity depends on us being part of the technological revolution shaping the world.

And I’m confident this Dialogue will spur new ideas, create closer partnerships and deepen our shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges of critical, emerging and cyber-enabled technologies.

It’s why the Australian Government is pleased to partner with ASPI in bringing together in this virtual format the best strategic thinkers on what’s at stake in the years ahead.  

Partnerships matter.

Australians recognise instinctively that to remain a free, open, sovereign and prosperous nation we need strong and durable partnerships - now more than ever.

In September, I announced — alongside President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson — the new AUKUS enhanced trilateral security partnership.

This is a partnership based fundamentally on trust and shared interests.

A partnership where, guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order, for democratic freedoms, we have resolved to deepen our diplomatic, security and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

To state the obvious, AUKUS is about much more than nuclear submarines.

AUKUS will see Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States promote deeper information sharing; foster greater integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains; and strengthen our cooperation in advanced and critical technologies and capabilities.

As ASPI has written perceptively:

“The real potential of AUKUS lies in how the new grouping can be leveraged in the long term to help Australia deal with the profound technological disruption about to sweep the world.”

Our trilateral efforts in AUKUS will enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability, with an initial focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.

Our officials will report back to Leaders within 90 days of our announcement with a proposed AUKUS work plan.

This work plan will involve exchanges of information, personnel, and advanced technologies and capabilities; joint planning, capability development and acquisitions; joint collaboration in science and technology; and developing common and complementary security and defence-related science and industrial bases. It’s a big agenda.

AUKUS is a broad and adaptable partnership that will drive our technology and capability cooperation to meet the challenges of the 21st century in our region, the Indo-Pacific region.

We are also deepening our technology partnerships through the Quad.

Together with India, Japan and the United States, Australia is working to harness our respective nations’ capabilities to enhance the resilience of Indo-Pacific supply chains and foster an open, accessible and secure technology ecosystem.

At September’s first in-person Quad Leaders Meeting in Washington DC, we agreed to strengthen lines of effort across a number of very important areas, including:

  • Technical standards, with initial focus on advanced communications and AI
  • 5G deployment and diversification, and
  • Detailed horizon scanning and mapping, with an immediate focus on supply chain security for semiconductors and their vital components, as well as exploring opportunities for cooperation on advanced bio-technologies.

We’re also working within the Quad to bolster critical infrastructure resilience against cyber threats, benchmarking against international best practice.

At home, our Office of Supply Chain Resilience is monitoring supply chain vulnerabilities and coordinating whole-of-government responses to ensure access to essential goods.

As a country of around 25 million people in a world of some 7.8 billion people, most of our technology is — and will continue to be — imported. It makes sense.

In most cases having diverse well functioning markets can meet our technology needs – but in some cases – for critical technologies – we need to ensure we can access and use such technologies reliably and safely, in good times and bad. 

Taking a wider lens, the Australian Government has developed a range of policies to ensure we maximise the opportunities new and emerging technologies offer and to minimise the risks they pose.

Our Digital Economy Strategy sets a goal of making Australia a leading digital economy by 2030, by investing in the infrastructure, skills, the regulation and systems that support and enable emerging technologies.

Our AI Action Plan sets out a vision for Australia to be a global leader in developing and adopting AI.

Our Modern Manufacturing Strategy is about making science and technology work for industry, and encouraging higher levels of technology investment, especially in defence industry, which is one of our key strategic sectors. 1 of 6.

Our Cyber Security Strategy sets out a framework to protect our nation against cyber threats — including threats against critical infrastructure — and to enhance our cyber awareness and capabilities.

Our Low Emissions Technology Statement positions Australia to become a global low emissions technology leader — to get us to net zero by 2050 – including in clean hydrogen, green steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage, long-duration energy storage, soil carbon measurement, and ultra low-cost solar.

This is vital, as I said, to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

And part of our plan for a strong economy and a safer, more resilient Australia. 

Today, I am pleased to release another key part of that plan – Australia’s Blueprint for Critical Technologies.

The Blueprint sets out a vision for protecting and promoting critical technologies in our national interest.

It aims to balance the economic opportunities of critical technologies with their national security risks.

And it gives us the right framework to work domestically and with like-minded countries to support the further development of these technologies.

The Blueprint sets out four key goals:

  1. Ensure we have access to, and choice in, critical technologies and systems that are secure, reliable, and cost-effective.
  2. Promote Australia as a trusted and secure partner for investment, research, innovation, collaboration, and adoption of critical technologies.
  3. Maintain the integrity of our research, science, ideas, information and capabilities - to enable Australian industries to thrive and maximise our sovereign IP.
  4. Support regional resilience and shape an international environment that enables open, diverse and competitive markets and secure and trusted technological innovation.

The Blueprint is supported by an Action Plan, which outlines what Australia is doing to protect and promote critical technologies in pursuit of our national interest.

It also specifies our nation’s first-ever Critical Technologies List. You’ve got to set priorities.

This list signals to governments, industry and academia the technologies slated as critical for Australia today or those expected to become so within the next decade.

Through this signal, we intend to drive consistency in decision making and focused investment. A mission focus.

There are 63 critical technologies on the list — but we’ve got an initial focus, very clearly, on just nine.

Let me focus briefly on just one - quantum technologies - applying quantum physics to explore ways to acquire, transmit and process vast quantities of information.

Quantum science and technology has the potential to revolutionise a whole range of industries, including finance, communications, energy, health, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and mining.

Quantum sensors, for example, could improve the discovery of valuable ore deposits and make groundwater monitoring more efficient; and quantum communications could provide for secure exchange of information to better secure financial transactions.

Quantum technologies will also have defence applications, like enabling navigation in GPS denied environments and helping to protect us from advanced cyber attacks.

Australia is already a global leader in several aspects of quantum technology.

We have some world-class research capabilities and scientists.  And strong foundations for a thriving quantum industry.

Now we need to take it to the next level.

The Government has asked Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, to lead the development of our first-ever National Quantum Strategy.

This will aim to better integrate industry and government activities, building on the recommendations of the CSIRO’s Quantum Technology Roadmap.

The strategy will be informed by a National Committee on Quantum which the Chief Scientist will chair, with commercial, research and national security expertise.

I’m confident the new strategy will help position Australia as a quantum technology leader in the Indo-Pacific.

I’m also pleased to announce today that the Government will invest $70 million over the next decade in a Quantum Commercialisation Hub, designed to commercialise Australia’s quantum research and forge links with global markets and supply chains.

This is about capitalising on our competitive advantage and taking our research to the world.

The Hub will be designed to attract private co-investment and to partner with equivalent bodies among like-minded nations. The first step is a joint cooperation agreement which the Government has signed with the United States.

And we’re looking forward to working with other countries, too.

Ladies and gentlemen, technology isn’t developed in a vacuum.

It reflects the values of the society that creates and uses it. And how they use it.

For Australia’s part, we are guided by our values as a liberal democratic nation — based on respect for the rule of law, human rights, economic and religious freedom, gender equality, and independent institutions.

We want technology to protect our citizens’ autonomy, privacy and data.

But you know, not all governments see technology the same way. They don’t see technology that way.

As President Biden has said:

“We’re … encountering a new era — an era of new technologies and possibilities that have the potential to release and reshape every aspect of human existence. And it’s up to all of us to determine whether these technologies are a force to empower people or to deepen repression.”

Australia, like the United States, is committed to playing our part so that rules and norms around technology reflect the values of our open societies.

Our International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy provides a framework to guide our international engagement.

We’re heavily engaged in standards-setting bodies like the International Organization for Standardization and International Telecommunication Union.

We’re also working through forums like the OECD, ASEAN, NATO, the G7 Plus and G20.

Australia is one of only 15 founding members of the Global Partnership on AI — a coalition working to ensure AI is used responsibly and respects human rights and democratic values.

And we’ve been working with the United Kingdom to develop ethical principles for human augmentation technologies, which will be progressed at the Future Tech Forum later this month.

We cannot shy away from the ethical implications of new technologies.

We need to be asking ourselves what should be done with technology — not just what can be done.

Ensuring our citizens understand that technologies are safe and secure and working in their interest is fundamental in providing the enabling environment necessary to support deployment. 

Before I conclude, I should note that I am also speaking at the Bengaluru Tech Summit today, which is India’s biggest technology summit.

There is much we can do with India in this area - some of which I have already touched on today, including as part of our Quad partnership.

As part of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India, our two countries are already cooperating — on cyber security, critical and emerging technologies, critical minerals, the digital economy, and so much more.

I will expand on some of the complementary initiatives with India at the Summit.

Friends, in this era of technological transformation and strategic competition, there are great challenges before us all.

Our goals are clear: to uphold our liberal democratic traditions, to keep Australia prosperous and to keep it strong and safe.

We will achieve this by working together and investing in the research and capabilities that reflect our interests and our values.

I want to send my best wishes to all who will be participating in this Sydney Dialogue.

Particularly my great friends Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and former Prime Minister John Howard.

I look forward to us having the opportunity to do it all again next year in person.

Thank you very much for your attention.