In this sense government could become an energetic user of Blockchain, like the many other links in the chains and the system.
The CSIRO has also proposed the idea of specialised identity ledgers as a practical approach to managing identity, and associated regulatory compliance, and for facilitating interoperability between distributed ledgers.
The government uses a lot of personal information such as for tax, for Medicare cards, for Centrelink payments so there is a strong case for the government to both assure the security of this information, but also to try and make it easier to use for the individual and for society more broadly.
But we also need to be cautious, in the same way that the information the government holds and the systems it manages do need to continue to adapt and improve, we must make decisions sensibly.
I think at least in the near term government will continue to examine how to set up regulate frameworks governing the potential by-products of Blockchain use, the easiest example being around crypto-currency.
For example, where there is a bad actor, say purveying a fraud, the government will continue to focus on regulating against that. Given Blockchain can make it much easier to provide reliable evidence this is likely to become easier.
However I am conscious it is has been said by many people that Blockchain today is at the internet’s equivalent of 1993.
So speculating about the future form of regulation at this point is not helpful.
But I would say that investment in skills and raising awareness and understanding by government is.
Coming back to that theme about the government embrace of Blockchain, I can see two broad pathways.
The first will be what we’ve seen occur, some agencies – like CSIRO – applying it in particular ways to test the possibility of certain outcomes and considering a wider application.
The other will see government collaborating actively with Blockchain’s champions, like many of you here. Then the question is: how?
I spoke earlier about the way some government’s are thinking about – and applying – Blockchain. But how can we mirror that here? That’s the question.
And who or what can help give this form and purpose.
Let me put this to you. Consider the emergence of the Australian government’s digital marketplace, essentially an online procurement platform designed to make it easier and cheaper for smaller tech players deliver their products and services to government.
As an opposition we’ve welcomed the concept of a digital marketplace, even if the delivery has been scratchy.
On the one hand it’s been able to capture and register a lot of interest by SMEs in a short space of time but there have been frustrations.
Some firms have said in an Innovation Aus survey they’re not getting anything remotely near the level of work that they expected – given the government hype.
But the concept of a platform that brings together the Blockchain community and government, to help accelerate the application of this technology within government, is something that government should be thinking about, better still, acting on now.
The government organisation that oversees the operation of the digital marketplace – the Digital Transformation Agency – would seem like the obvious player for this.
But the DTA appears to be travelling down a particular evolutionary path that may not lend itself to championing delivery and a practical or novel application of emerging tech.
Having had a solid focus on public sector product development and delivery in the past, it seems the DTA is now more focussed on being an auditor; ticking off ICT project costings and management plans.
This means there is a gap where government leadership in service development and innovation should be.
This is a pity because we need an agency that has attracted outside thinkers and talent to help identify the ways that emerging tech – like Blockchain – can be applied constructively within government.
So while Australians are recognised worldwide as being early adopters of technology, it seems at this moment, our government is happy to stand back – but at what cost?
For a beast that is inherently risk averse, you would imagine government would race towards the benefits of applying Blockchain to its processes.
This needs to be driven by an agency such as the DTA. The alternative is that adaptation and development takes place inconsistently costing time, money and most importantly, opportunity.
I suspect this is what we are facing.
And for a government that once prided itself on being agile and innovative, this seems weird ground to be bogged in.
I think that government will embrace Blockchain eventually because of the potential it has for good public outcomes.
The potential to make all sorts of services and transactions more affordable, and bring together individuals who have been at the margins into the global economy.
I am optimistic about the potential of Blockchain particularly in Australia – and especially if there are a diverse number of people and organisations involved. To quote IBM’s Bridget van Kralingen:
“Blockchain will only reach mainstream adoption with the participation of women as builders and users of the technology.”
We need the skills of many within our wider population if we want to lead the world, so Bridget’s thoughts are worth bearing in mind.
The value of that was demonstrated today. When you heard the words of student Millicent Perkins. Her words were so precise and clear that I wanted to outsource my speech to her.
She is reflecting on the broader impact of tech on behaviour. I’ve often called on people to be enamoured by tech for tech’s sake. What’s it doing to behaviour?
You heard Millicent describe a new mindset that focuses less on asset ownership to asset access – to reach outcome faster. Accelerating problem solving.
I wish you the very best for the conference.
TUESDAY, 13 MARCH 2018
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