Fintech and Australia – Australian Prime Minister’s speech December 2020




PRIME MINISTER: G’day from Australia!

It’s fantastic to be part of this world renowned FinTech festival.

For many years, I have been an enthusiastic believer in the potential of this dynamic sector.

Because it’s demonstrating its ability to drive change, growth, innovation and productivity, most importantly, across every field of economic endeavour, and even more broadly than that.

This is a sector that can transform lives – by unlocking the financial system, by giving more power to consumers, fintech is a boon to small businesses and start-ups, but also families.

This sector is proving that we are only limited in this day and age by our imagination.

These are extraordinary times – and today I want to speak to you about the times we live in, the innovation these times are driving within our Government and governments, and what I believe is the compelling Australian FinTech story.

The times we face

The world over – we have all faced the health and economic crises generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 is a year none of us want to repeat.

In Australia, we have used our strong balance sheet – built up over many years of discipline, to support and provide our health system with the additional resources, record levels, it has needed – and to provide major, unprecedented economic supports for households and businesses – providing much needed strength and resilience to the economy to both cushion the blow and to recover.

On the health front – the virus has been largely suppressed and contained here in Australia. But sadly, like so many other countries, we have lost lives. 900, just over here in Australia.

Our efforts have successfully suppressed the virus – and we are now focused on ensuring there are no more outbreaks, and that they are contained in the event that they occur.

On the economic front, our actions have saved 700,000 jobs – and many of the jobs that were lost are returning. In fact, around 80 per cent of jobs that were either wiped out or people’s hours were reduced to zero, have now been returned to our economy.

We’ve had one of the lowest falls in our GDP of any of the advanced nations. Only last Wednesday we learned that in the September quarter our economy rebounded with 3.3 per cent growth.

The strong results is a credit to all parts of Australian life. It’s by virtue of the great contributions of workers, employees, of governments, of businesses, of employers.

Through some of our businesses, though they were frozen in place by virtue of the pandemic restrictions, they are now coming back to life. And many are accelerating at warp speed.

Fintech and JobMaker

Nearly 9 out of 10 Australian firms took on new technology to cope with new conditions here in Australia.

McKinsey has estimated that in terms of business and consumer digital adoption, we vaulted forward some 5 years in just 8 weeks.

Now that’s supercharged change.

I am determined, here in Australia, that we don’t lose that momentum.

And that’s why we had our JobMaker Plan put in place, which is all about our recovery plan, the rebuilding, rebuilding our economy for the future.

And that comeback is on. It is happening right now in Australia.

Building an economy that is more advanced and adaptive, more creative and resilient than ever before.

That means modernising our digital architecture.

Getting the regulatory settings right and governments leading by example in how we do business.

It’s also about supporting businesses to take up that new technology, to apply it, to adopt it, and become digital by default.

Ensuring our cyber security settings though are fit-for-purpose is critical to underpin the confidence that is needed for Australians and the businesses they run, households they’re part of, to engage in that digital technology future.

Encouraging unimagined innovation by removing barriers to entry, we have been doing through regulatory sandboxes here in Australia.

And building on consumer data rights – which I started work on when I was the Treasurer.

These are landmark reforms to our economy, some of the biggest reforms we’ve seen.

Vital to giving customers, consumers power, more access and control over their data, where data has become a commodity in this digital age.

This year, we launched it in our banking sector, as part of our banking sector reforms, our open banking reforms. And other sectors will soon follow, particularly in energy and other utilities.

The whole sector relies on partnerships in FinTech – connecting different parts of the eco-system – and that includes government. We’re no exception here.

Our Partnership with Singapore

Australia and Singapore are Comprehensive Strategic Partners and I greatly value the relationship I have with Prime Minister Lee and that Singapore has with Australia. It is very important to us.

It is a deep friendship, it is a deep partnership, and it is based on such clear values and an outlook on the world and our economic futures that is highly aligned.

In August this year, Australia and Singapore signed a ground-breaking Digital Economy Agreement – one of the first of its kind.

The Agreement is a digital bridge that features modern, upgraded rules to free up data flows and increase compatibility for online trade.

It gets rid of unnecessary restrictions on where data has to be stored, while at the same time protecting personal data and consumer rights.

It makes government information also easier to access, and government rules easier to follow.

It covers everything from AI to ID; e-invoicing to e-certification; data protection to protecting our children from online harm, from online predators.

It’s a massive step forward, and a new global benchmark for digital trade for others to follow, and for both of us to pursue with other partners around the world, so we can all become linked up.

FinTech is a big plank of this digital bridge.

We’ve opened the way for collaboration between FinTech and RegTech enterprises and industry bodies to explore business opportunities, and develop standards for open banking.

And all of this, it’s just the start.

The Australian Acceleration

FinTech, it’s not a destination or a one-size fits all approach to modernising policy.

It’s not a buzz word, it’s real.

It’s all about government taking on the same flexibility as well, and adaptability and willingness to experiment and innovate – just like business does when it wants to flourish.

I want the pace of change in our government to continue to accelerate in these critical areas.

And it has this year. Dramatically.

On the FinTech front, we’ve seen great work with our Parliamentary Committee into FinTech headed by Senator Bragg and the work of our Assistant Minister for Financial Services and Financial Technology Jane Hume – and my message to my colleagues across government is: don’t let up, keep going!

FinTech is integral to the economy we are rebuilding.

And there are plenty of fronts where we have so much still to do – particularly in deregulation, taxation, and especially skills development.

We have a fantastic Australian story – and I am incredibly proud of what our Aussie start-ups and early age ventures are achieving, as well as our well-established unicorns and what they’re achieving.

You know some of them: Atlassian, Airwallex, Afterpay, Judo Bank, Athena Home Loans.

In fact, “Buy Now Pay Later” Is an Australian innovation.

As a people, we are very keen adopters – it’s just how we are, it’s part of our psyche – and that means it’s easy to create a customer base here.

Australian’s get this.

We’ve seen that this year in the Medtech space – with a massive roll out of telehealth services throughout the pandemic. So far, over 40 million telehealth consultations have taken place – providing medical support to 11.9 million Australians.

Now when you think of Australia, we’re a vast country. Vast spaces, populations far removed. And so our geography, our society, our passion for delivering essential services right across our country, it produces this type of innovation.

We have difficult problems to solve here in Australia, and these tools help us solve them, which demonstrates why we are a country that really does understand the future of FinTech.

As the world’s only nation continent, we always have to be outward looking. You don’t get rich by selling stuff to yourself. Singaporeans certainly understand that.

It’s why we always look beyond our own borders for our economic opportunities.

So half of our FinTech firms actually have a presence overseas.

Last year, 7 Australian companies were named among the world’s top 100 FinTechs.

And for Australia, we know that continued acceleration requires greater attention to skills.

This technology, it doesn’t invent itself.

As your conference theme reminds us, technology is as much about talent as it is about tools.

We need more highly-skilled people to develop and commercialise the next wave of cutting edge innovations. And they are welcome here in Australia, if this is where you wish to come to further you FinTech’s opportunities.

Some countries are worried about the brain-drain – we’re focused on the “brain gain”. That’s about attracting talent and global businesses to Australia.

This can be your place of great success as it has been for millions over many generations.

A country that is reliable, safe, stable and free. Resolutely free. And, although I might be a little biased, it is a beautiful place to live, and to raise a family.

And we can comfortably pitch for that talent – because we are the most successful multicultural nation on earth.

No one has greater diversity across its population and more successful cohesion of the many cultures, of the many language groups, of the ethnicities and heritages that come together in this amazing Australian nation.

So we are building our skills locally as well as attracting skilled people from overseas.

That’s an invite by the way!

To help us do that, I’ve appointed a Special Envoy for Global Business and Talent Attraction, Mr Peter Verwer AO.

Peter’s an experienced business leader here in Australia, but he is also experienced overseas. He’s based in Singapore, with deep commercial, academic and cultural networks that reach out across the world. He’s spent much time there.

His team is scouting for talented people to come to Australia and work with us.

His message, and mine as he is my Special Envoy on this issue, is that Australia is a great place to do business – and yes, it’s the best place in the world to live.

We have a blossoming tech sector, a digital bridge to Singapore and the region, a culture of innovation and collaboration, and a fierce determination to keep building on what we have already achieved.

We are also keen to work with our global partners to ensure international policy rules keep pace with the needs of the communities that we represent.

And we want to set that pace too. We’re looking for pace setters here in Australia.

I hope many of you will want to work with us. I hope many of you will want to join us. And I hope that we’ll be able to welcome you for that purpose.

So thank you, everyone. I hope enjoy the festival of FinTech.

It’s an exciting part of what’s happening in the world today, a real bright spot. Something that I think our countries, our populations, our citizens can gain great hope from.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.