The development of international standards on current and emerging critical technologies is increasingly important to economic competition and geopolitical security. This is due to their ability to shape technological trajectories, providing significant economic and strategic advantages to those who influence the development of technology standards.
Standards are the specifications, procedures and technical guidelines that ensure products, services and systems are safe, consistent, reliable, and interoperable. They ensure consistency for consumers, provide confidence in the safety and reliability of products, and when internationally harmonised, assist in reducing barriers to international trade.
Standard setting in emerging technologies has become increasingly strategic and important to the economic security of nations, and a crucial component of global technology competition. They can shape technological trajectories and advance the values and interests of those who set them. Despite the fact that many are developed and adopted voluntarily, standards can become mandatory through national legislation, associated regulations, and commercial contracts, enabling greater control over the intellectual property and value centres of global supply chains.
Why standards matter
The development and international harmonisation of critical technology standards play a vital role in Australia and the world's economic development. As the connective tissue between technology and the market, standards create trust and consistency, foster innovation and drive economic growth. Australia, along with many other countries, has maintained an industry-led, consensus-driven standards development process.
Some countries have notably increased the level of government involvement in support of standards development. National delegations to international standards bodies have grown in size and sophistication, and companies have, with the support of their governments, submitted an increasing number of domestic standards for consideration in international standards development organisations (SDOs) including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This approach provides strategic and industrial advantages to states that drive the development of standards, particularly where companies are state-owned.
The increasing influence of critical technologies across society has also magnified the importance of the values underpinning their design, development and use. Through standards, values can be embedded to set a lasting trajectory for technological innovation and shape the way our society functions. Authoritarian regimes may seek to embed values in standards development that are contrary to Australia's liberal democratic values and national interests. Cognisant of this risk, we will work to shape the development and implementation of standards that promote technology consistent with human rights and our national interests.
Increasing Australia's international standards engagement
Australia will work with international partners to ensure the integrity of standards development systems and processes. We will seek to ensure that they remain open, commercially driven, and technology-neutral. Promoting security-by-design will be a key priority of this engagement.
Australia is committed to international standards development through existing multilateral and multi-stakeholder SDOs where appropriate. We will focus our engagement on strengthening international cooperation to ensure that SDOs are fit for purpose to address current challenges, accountable to member states, free from undue influence, and appropriately focused. Australia advocates for a transparent approach to rule setting in the development of standards, and stronger coordination between SDOs to reduce the duplication and overlap. These efforts assist in preventing divergent standards that splinter markets and reduce the benefits of harmonisation and innovation, or introduce vulnerabilities inimical to our national interests.
The Australian Government will continue to engage with the Australian standards community and business representatives to share information on the role of standards in critical technologies and developments impacting Australian business. Australia will also expand engagement with regional standards organisations across the Indo-Pacific.
Standards support diverse and competitive critical technology markets
Technical innovation is driven by trusted standards that encourage competition and diversity in critical technology markets. Australia will promote standards that are consistent with international trade and investment obligations, enable fair competition, encourage innovation and create economic opportunity.
Australia will work with our international partners to prevent standards that create barriers to trade and prevent interoperability of products and services globally. We will work to advance data standardisation and promote common frameworks for interoperability, privacy and security in critical technologies.
By embedding security-by-design as a core principle in critical technology standards, Australia will encourage greater competition based on security, incentivising suppliers to lift the overall security of critical technologies.