Australia has given up last year’s gains in its world rankings for digital competitiveness, slipping back to 18th spot on the back of poor broadband affordability and lagging business adoption of ICT.

The annual numbers are from the World Economic Forum’s IT report. The Australian contribution was prepared by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), which is a World Economic Forum (WEF) partner.

“Despite the NBN roll-out and the efforts from all sides of politics to improve our digital readiness Australia clearly still has some way to go to regain a place inside the world’s top ten,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

“For Australia, the 2016 result is disappointing especially at a time of economic and political uncertainty when we should be doing all we can to improve our productive performance at all levels and through all means.”

In the 2015 report, Australia gained slightly in the world rankings, moving from 18th up to 16th spot, but it has now slipped back down to 18th.

“[That] steers us further away from our top nine ranking in 2004,” Willox noted.

“As an advanced economy, Australia ranks relatively poorly compared to its peers.

“There is a clear gap between the top seven ranked economies and other advanced economies. These countries (dominated by Singapore, northern Europe and the US) currently lead the way in embedding and leveraging digital technologies.

“Critically, they are characterised by a business sector that is embracing new digital technologies and innovations as core parts of operations.”

Australia was surprisingly weak on business adoption of ICT, despite the recent focus on the impact of digital disruption. It ranked 28th in the world.

“Australian businesses need to better embrace ICT and improve their capacity to innovate,” Willox said.

“Central to improving digital competitiveness will be development of effective policies to encourage business innovation and use of ICT and the development of the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills needed to leverage new technologies.

“This is all the more important in the context of Australia’s transition from the resource-related investment boom towards new drivers of growth.”

Government, in Australia, is far more advanced than business in this regard.

“The Australian government and public sector are among the leaders in the world in providing online services (8th) and allowing citizens’ e-participation (7th),” the WEF report said.

Broadband also continued to act as a drag on the WEF rankings, in particular its affordability. The WEF report remarked that “fixed broadband subscriptions remain particularly expensive”, giving Australia a rank of 100 out of all countries.

One potential bright spot for Australia was in the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) being pressed by the Coalition.

“The country’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, launched in December 2015, if fully implemented, might help to orient Australia’s economy more toward innovation, bridging some of the gaps, especially in venture capital availability (40th worldwide) and the creation of new business models via ICTs (41st),” WEF said.

Willox encouraged “bipartisan support in these types of productivity-boosting initiatives” to help Australia grow its digital rank, regardless of the make-up of government.