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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10150


Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (17:12): This is an excellent report. I must at the outset commend the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources for putting this report together. It is exactly the type of report that is required in a place like this, giving us the opportunity to lift ourselves from day-to-day skirmishes and think about things that will affect our communities across the country, be they city or region based, in the longer term and how we manage that change. So I wanted to commend the committee itself and echo the complimentary remarks made about the secretariat. In particular, I wanted to thank my opposition colleagues who were on that committee. I thank the member for Solomon, the member for Lyons and also the member for Wills for their contribution.

The reality is that driverless vehicles are coming. They are around the corner. In the next few years, it is more and more likely that you are going to be driving alongside a vehicle that is autonomous. For some people, it will be novel and different. For others, it will be a time saver and a stress saver. But it will also pose a challenge. Not only will it pose a challenge to the 250,000 Australians that earn their living from driving—the truck driver, the bus driver, the taxidriver—but it could also have an impact in ways we haven't considered. These vehicles are likely to actually make an impact on those terrible accident statistics that we see—for example, the human factor believed to be the cause or an influence in 90 per cent of accidents, and the 1,200 Australians who die from car accidents each year. If autonomous or driverless vehicles improve safety then that is a great thing. What impact will that have, for example, on police, who may not necessarily have to be called out so often to accidents, or on emergency departments, who might no longer be required to staff in a particular way as a result of the tragic accidents that occur on our roads?

It goes right down to salespeople when you consider that these days we are more and more prepared to buy a vehicle or other things online without seeing the product. Look at the extraordinary demand for Tesla vehicles—they didn't necessarily need a salesperson to explain to people why these vehicles were necessary. This will change the way in which vehicles are purchased. This is going to have a big impact.

Are we ready? Are we thinking about this change? The answer is no. We can see a future where cars can drive themselves, but we have in this country no direction. No-one—in particular, this government—is plotting how the country will manage the impact of automation. This change is coming. Automation, we know, will affect a large number of jobs. About 13 out of 19 Australian industry sectors are going to be affected by technological change in some shape or form, and there is absolutely no evidence that we are preparing for this. This is a great report, but the threat to this report is that it will gather dust like other reports before it that have talked about the need to prepare. Those who wrote the report have given a lot of thought to this and have talked to a lot of people. They have come up with some excellent conclusions. The worst thing that can happen to this report is that its recommendations are ignored. We should be very concerned about that.

I have been to Palo Alto and I have sat in driverless vehicles in two forms—there are the ones where someone is behind the wheel, ready to take over, but there are other vehicles that have absolutely no dashboard whatsoever and can drive completely on their own. These are being developed by tech giants like Google. Uber is investing a lot in this in the United States. A lot of firms are thinking about driverless vehicles. It will change the model of car ownership. For example, with ridesharing you can potentially foresee a future where people will be using someone else's vehicle, an autonomous or driverless vehicle, and the cost of using that vehicle will already be sorted out through ridesharing apps that are already in existence right now. What is the impact of that on cities, on the way that we roll out our infrastructure, the way that we move people on our roads and the way we invest to deal with that? You can see that cities will change shape, and it will challenge urban planning as well in the longer term. How are we prepared for that type of event?

All this will prompt a huge data challenge. Ford, as the report points out, is going to spend $200 million converting an assembly plant into a data processing facility. The CEO of Intel figures that for every eight hours that an autonomous vehicle is operating it is going to generate 40 terabytes of data. This is huge. How will that data be used, and what are the protections in place to prevent people hacking into cars? What's the safety impact of that? There was an instance where a Fiat Chrysler Jeep was deliberately hacked to test the vulnerabilities of the system. It drove off by itself, and then it had the brakes slammed on by another person with a laptop sitting some distance away. They were able to demonstrate that, despite the manufacturer's claims that the vehicle was safe, it could be hacked. People are going to be concerned about the vulnerability of these vehicles.

We have other concerns about what standards will be enforced and what leadership role government will have. The report traverses legal liability, safety issues, even things like the future of drivers licences and how prevalent drivers licences will be in a future where autonomous vehicles can make their own decisions about how they operate. We've heard already the benefits for mobility, for people who are not able to drive—particularly older people, who will lose their licences due to advancing age. This may open up mobility to people in that type of circumstance. Public transport applications are also important.

The report devotes a significant amount of time to the employment impacts that these developments might bring. I touched on some of these earlier. There are two things, involving what the government isn't doing and what the government is doing, that will have an impact on employment. While the committee was bipartisan on this, and I respect that, the government do need to be held to account for this. First, they aren't providing any further thought on the impact of automation on work. The employment minister last year released a report that had been authored by the CSIRO—Tomorrow's digitally enabled workforce. I know for a fact that this report is just gathering dust in the Department of Employment. This is not good for the nation in the longer term. What the government are doing that will have an impact is currently cutting $20 billion from support for schools. They already cut $600 million from TAFEs. We are now considering legislation that will cut investment in universities. Automation is going to demand a higher level of skills to be possessed by Australians. At a time when automation will demand a higher level of skills, to deny investment in this area is not only economically irresponsible; it is socially irresponsible as well. The government have to be held to account for that.

I will end on this quote. When you look at technology—

Government members interjecting

Mr HUSIC: They have a lot of time to interject but no time to think and no time to act—that's what happens from those opposite. The critical quote that was contained in this report was from Dr Matt Wenham of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, who said that when you look at new technologies, social licence is the key. He said:

Pick your technology; the issue is rarely with the technological aspects—that will be resolved with research that is going on in markets and that sort of work—it is around social acceptance and social licence. If the conversation is not structured properly with the community and people do not understand the issues around this and are not able to feel that they can have a say in how these technologies are deployed, you will have the sort of problems that you had with other technologies. We should not underestimate that social licence.

He is absolutely right. This is a conversation we need to have more with the public. We need to focus more on this issue, but more than anything else we need to prepare. The government is holding back the longer term benefit of automation and technological change, and it's increasing the risk of the downside on people. We as a nation cannot afford that. I commend the report, but I certainly condemn the government for their inaction in this space.

Debate adjourned.