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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
Smart information and communications technology in the design and planning of infrastructure

TUCKER, Professor Rodney, OAM, Chair, National Committee for Information and Communication Sciences, Australian Academy of Science

Committee met at 8:35

CHAIR ( Mrs Prentice ): I declare open the committee's public hearing for the inquiry into the role of smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure. Today's public hearing will provide the committee with an opportunity to hear from a number of witnesses as part of the inquiry. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Prof. Tucker : The National Committee for Information and Communication Sciences' submission, submission No. 5, is fairly straightforward. We took the decision to focus on two things. We started with a comment on terminology. We do not think it is critically important, but we felt it was important to mention. We also focused on each of the statements in the terms of reference. One point I would like to make is: on the second page of the submission, just before recommendation 2 in the blue box, the sentence says:

For example: smart highways or the Internet of Things (IoT; …

There should be a closing bracket after 'the Internet of Things (IoT'. Also, 'Item 3' should be 'Item (c)'. This refers to an item two pages further on.

CHAIR: Do you want to make any other comments?

Prof. Tucker : No.

Ms MARINO: I have asked throughout this process about practical recommendations that need to be made to government in this space. Given our terms of reference and the evidence that we have received so far, what would your top two practical outcomes and recommendations be that this committee could make?

Prof. Tucker : I think our recommendation 3 is the top one. Recommendation 3 is:

… that government consider appropriate mechanisms for engaging with the research community to leverage existing expertise to expose and explore new, innovative and sustainable capability for ICT enablement of smart infrastructure.

We feel that Australia has tremendous opportunities, given that this field of endeavour is at such an early stage. It is at a point where researchers and engineers in Australia could really make a contribution. We feel that it is a critical time right now to engage with those organisations and, through appropriate mechanisms, encourage more R&D in this area. That is our first priority. Our second priority, which is recommendation 2, is that, since this is such a broad area and covers so many areas of technology and infrastructure, we cannot do everything in Australia. We feel that it is important to identify, scope and prioritise those areas of infrastructure that are of particular importance to Australia where we can have most impact.

Mr PITT: Could you expand on your comments about education. I, and I am sure a number of the people on the panel, recognise that we have an issue around STEM. Do you have any ideas on how to encourage more people to get involved in STEM?

Prof. Tucker : I think it starts in high schools—mathematics, computer science and subjects like that. It is well recognised that many high school teachers are not particularly well educated themselves in these areas, so students end up being less motivated than they might otherwise be to take on those subjects. The first step would be to help improve the education of high school teachers in this area and encourage more people looking at teaching careers to undertake the studies themselves in mathematics, physics and computer science—and through that help bring motivate more students in high schools to take on those subjects in universities.

There is a need for greater collaboration between universities and industry to give students more of a sense of engagement in the technologies that they are likely to be working in when they finish their university education. There is quite a lot of scope for the universities to engage with industry and students in university engineering, science, mathematics and computer science courses, but they need to work more closely with industry perhaps through industry placements and industry-based projects and so on.

CHAIR: Recommendation 2 recommends:

… that the Inquiry identify, scope and prioritise the infrastructure that is of particular importance to Australia.

Isn't it really the role of the Infrastructure Australia to do that? Do you really think it is this inquiry's responsibility?

Prof. Tucker : I suppose Infrastructure Australia could make recommendations in that area.

CHAIR: They do, don't they?

Prof. Tucker : Yes, they do. I am not sure that they have a focus on smart infrastructure. I am not aware of recent recommendations by Infrastructure Australia. As far as I am aware there is no strong focus in Australia on any particular area of smart infrastructure. As far as I know the research and development exercises are very widespread and cover a wide range of topics. If we could encourage focus on more specific areas, there could be some benefit.

CHAIR: But this inquiry is looking at how we deliver it as opposed to the actual pieces of infrastructure.

Prof. Tucker : Our recommendation has to do with the terms of reference which talked about identifying innovative technology for mapping, modelling and designing infrastructure. What struck my committee was that this is a mammoth task if you want to try and do that for all aspects of smart infrastructure. Smart infrastructure is a large topic, and the technology for mapping, modelling and design of such infrastructure is an enormous task. Our attitude was that for this committee to do that in a meaningful way with limited resources it should be focused on a limited set of smart infrastructure areas.

CHAIR: The committee inquiry will not be doing it. It is looking at how it should be done. Have you looked at the submission from people like BCE?

Prof. Tucker : No, I have not.

Ms MARINO: One of the things we have heard a lot about is the sheer volume of data that will be part of what is available in this space. In your view and that of your committee, should that data be open access? Where should it sit? How would you envision securing that data, particularly certain parts of the data? How does your committee think that should work?

Prof. Tucker : Well, of course, it depends on the type of data. For example, if it is medical data for managing a smart approach to health maintenance and health care, then clearly security and privacy is of utmost importance. In that case, the data would need to be held in some very secure way, and with privacy having the utmost priority. If it is data to do with the movement of pedestrians and commuters in the inner city, to do with public transport and so on, and that data has to do with management of smart applications for people to negotiate the city transport system, then clearly it is anonymised and that kind of data could well benefit from being widely available and open. So I think the answer really depends on the particular data that one is dealing with.

Ms MARINO: It does, when you consider the major networks and assets that might be targets of those with the wrong intent, and the amount of information there is that gives them an opportunity that we would not want them to have. That was something that I was keen to get your view on, because we have heard quite a number of different views on who should have access and, in a sense, who should own the data. So I would be also interested in you giving us your views on where this data should sit. We have had the National Archives even saying that they could manage the volume of data that would arise out of this over time. We have also had Infrastructure Australia mentioned as well, as part of that. There have been a number of suggestions. Where do you think it should sit?

Prof. Tucker : I do not think we have a particular view on that. I think that it is not an issue that we have considered in detail.

CHAIR: Are there no further questions? Professor Tucker, thank you very much. Is there something else you wish to add?

Prof. Tucker : No, that is it, thank you.

CHAIR: Can I encourage you perhaps to look at some of the submissions we have received—particularly, I would have thought, from BCE—

Ms MARINO: AECOM, John Holland—all of those.

CHAIR: and perhaps respond to some of the issues they raised. I think the inquiry will actually be stronger for some of the feedback we are getting on different organisations' submissions, which will help us come to some recommendations.

Formally, thank you for attending the public hearing today. The secretariat will send you a draft transcript of proceedings, so requests can be made to correct any errors of transcription. As I said, we would be grateful if there is any further information, perhaps addressing the line of our inquiry; that would be really useful. Thank you very much for coming in today.