The government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda launched in December, is a $1.1 billion plan to encourage entrepreneurialism, support startups and drive research.
“Innovation and science are critical for Australia to deliver new sources of growth, maintain high-wage jobs and seize the next wave of economic prosperity,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time
He’s right. But is the government going about supporting tech growth in the right way?
A diverse panel at a CEDA event in Sydney were posed with the question: What one thing should the government focus on to support tech business growth in Australia?
Here’s what they had to say.
Jost Stollman, Executive Director and CEO, Tyro Payments, believes the government should do more to plug the talent drain.
“The talent pool is completely and utterly a disaster. It’s a disaster here, it’s a disaster everywhere.
“Financial technology and banking is one of the areas Sydney should focus on. We’ve had a wave of Silicon Valley people invading finance and banking. And I am predicting that many of them will fail because they’re starting from – ‘We’ll create this awesome user experience. The punter will come, and later we’ll figure out how to make money and how to manage risk.’
“The reality is in order to be successful at banking and financial services you do need to marry the technology and the software, the data algorithms side with good old banking skills. And I think if Sydney got its head around this it could have a huge opportunity.
“But it requires first of all the best and the brightest to come. Talent is a huge issue. It’s far more important than money.”
Super fund investment
Yasser El-Ansary is CEO of AVCAL Australian Private Equity Venture Capital Association. He said politicians should stop focusing on super fund fees and push them to invest more.
“[The discourse around super funds is] focused on fees and costs as opposed to what superannuation and pension funds all around the world are focused on, and that is – returns. It is hugely problematic for us.
“It matters because focusing on costs and fees to the detriment of investing for the longer term is a big part of the reason why our large institutional investors, like super funds, are not allocating as much capital in investment into high growth Australian business.
“That is a big part of the reason why that capital’s not flowing. [We need] government to stand up and talk about how we need to encourage super funds to invest more in this part of our economy. We’re completely missing the debate.
“When you talk to an overseas pension fund like Canadian pensions funds that have a strong presence here in Australia at the moment, they are laughing … because they can’t believe that here in Australia, with two trillion dollars in savings, [fees are] the issue we’re worried about. Meanwhile all around the world the issue they’re worried about is about how they invest long term for growth.”
Nick Giurietto, CEO and MD of Australia Digital Currency Commerce Association, believes government should explore the possibilities around blockchain, and start small at first.
“There’s a real magic pudding opportunity for both federal and state governments around blockchain. And that is to actually use the procurement power of the government to redesign service delivery in a way that will take out costs and improve engagement with customers.
“It’s possible in the longer run we will look at our taxation system, our health system, really core pieces of the fabric of society and redesign them. We’re not going to do that yet.
“What government can and should do right now is conduct a government service delivery blockchain hackathon. Bring together some of the smart people thinking about opportunities in this space. Give them the opportunity to learn about the tech, learn how it can be used, how regulation can be changed and how to save the tax payer some dollars at the same time.
“That’s what I’d like to see to get some real energy in this space.”
Don’t be a roadblock
Alina Bain, CEO of Australian Services Roundtable, had a more direct request. But seconded that talent was a major concern.
“Get out of our way. Throw money at us. Then get out of our way!
“We have a skills shortage in Australia. In order for these companies to do amazing things they need a solid IT workforce. And we have a problem because we have a shortage and firms are having to go overseas to find their skilled labour.
“We need that expertise coming through. We also don’t see enough women coming through the pipeline. Women in IT are certainly under-represented in the workforce.”