National Security Risk
Australia has unique skills and capability in robotics and a growing ecosystem of companies who rely on those skills. Robotic technologies are vital components of the industrial internet (Industry 4.0) used in critical infrastructure and defence applications. A lack of skills and capability in these areas poses a credible national security risk. Australia needs to develop and maintain a strong capability in robotics to protect the industry, in a similar manner to having national capability in cybersecurity to protect the information and communication technology industry.
A loss of Australia’s capability in this space would mean that we would have to rely on foreign countries for expertise which can be a risky proposition. For example, in 2016 the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) agreed to the Chinese company Midea’s takeover of German high-tech robotics manufacturer Kuka (which has offices in the USA) [REU16]. This decision led to changes in Germany’s rules on foreign corporate takeovers where there is a risk of critical technology being lost abroad [REU17]. The change is seen as necessary to protect critical infrastructure including power grids and hospitals. Similarly, Australia blocked a tender from China’s Huawei Technologies to supply to Australia’s national broadband network NBN [REU12].