Denham Sadler
August 7, 2018

NSW’s new tech mega precinct

Policy

NSW’s new tech mega precinct

Gladys Berejiklian: Keeping the tap turned on for tech

The New South Wales government has announced initial plans for a potentially vast new tech precinct in central Sydney – to be “Australia’s Silicon Valley” – but has declined to reveal how much funding it would be contribute towards the ambition.

The state says it would partner with Australian tech giant Atlassian, co-working space provider Fishburners and industry group TechSydney to develop the precinct, which would “stretch from Central to Eveleigh”.

Government says the precinct would create 10,000 jobs by 2036. The value of the state’s investment in the plan would be orders of magnitude great than the $35 million it spent on the Sydney Startup Hub – potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars or more, depending on the size of the land given over to the project, or whether the state also contributes cash.

Few details have been revealed, but it’s likely that Central Station would be a centrepiece location of the precinct after a year of campaigning by TechSydney and Atlassian.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the plan at a media event on Tuesday claiming it would “cement Sydney as the technology capital of Australia”.

“This will be the home of 10,000 new jobs in the future, it will be Australia’s version of Silicon Valley. We’ll make sure that every person around the world wants to work here,” Ms Berejiklian said

“The best and brightest locally, but also the best and brightest around the world wanting to work here for those tech innovation jobs,” she said.

TechSydney director Bede Moore said it is a very positive first move, but the devil would be in the details.

“The government has seen the opportunity for what could be an industry-changing and real piece of future infrastructure. We need to see the details but I view it pretty optimistically,” Mr Moore told InnovationAus.com.

“You need to have as a state a vision about where this industry can take us. That’s why I’m so excited and optimistic about this,” he said.

“It’s a real acknowledgement that everyone recognises the tech industry is a way for us to create jobs of the future. We need to see the details but this is great news and it all points in the right direction.”

Atlassian and TechSydney have been lobbying in the background for a tech precinct in the city for years, and were previously critical of the state government for selling the Australian Technology Park to Mirvac and the Commonwealth Bank.

The area from Central to Eveleigh is a stone’s throw from a number of university campuses, Data61 offices and the Australian Technology Park, along with a stretch of railway tracks.

Central Station appears to be the clear spot for the centrepiece of the tech precinct, something that TechSydney has been recommending for more than a year.

“It does look like Central is going to be the location but I don’t think that’s finalised. We’ve said that it’s the obvious place – the state government is already doing really important work in terms of general infrastructure development, and Central sits at the middle of all of that,” Mr Moore said.

“It’s next to two of the nation’s leading universities, one of the biggest hospitals and is close to TAFE NSW. It is the natural place for building an innovation and tech precinct.”

The government has announced a major redevelopment of Central Station, which is set to act as a key transport hub in the city’s south, with construction to begin this year.

Ms Berejiklian said the chosen area is already home to “Australia’s largest cluster of startup firms” and this will be used as the base for the new tech precinct.

A taskforce has been set up to guide the development of the precinct, led by Jobs for NSW chair David Thodey and featuring representatives from a range of universities and the startup sector, including TechSydney, Fishburners and Stone & Chalk.

“That’s about ensuring there is a voice for not just our membership but for the industry at large. We will be working to ensure that we understand what the needs of the industry are to help create the right direction so that we develop the right plan that supports the infrastructure,” Mr Moore said.

The announcement is a major turnaround since the state government rejected Atlassian’s bid to make the Australian Technology Park its new home, instead opting to hand the building to the Commonwealth Bank in a deal worth $263 million.

Atlassian co-CEO Scott Farquhar said the newly announced precinct would be a game changer for the local tech sector.

“If you look at every successful innovation hub in the world, from Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv, they all have a centre of gravity – a place the startup community calls home,” Mr Farquhar said.

“I’m delighted that now our tech community will have the same opportunity to point to a map and call it home,” he said.

“Sydney has the potential to be one of the world’s leading tech cities and the creation of a tech hub sends a very loud signal – not only to the country, but to the rest of the world - that we’re in the race.”

The tech precinct will be entirely separate from the Sydney Startup Hub, which opened in the CBD in February after receiving $35 million from the state government over five years.

Mr Moore said that the startup hub has proved on a smaller scale that having a central location is important to the industry.

“That has been a really great way for everyone to experience the benefit of creating a hub.

You need to have a full range of the ecosystem, from universities to unicorns, if you can have that range then it is a true ecosystem,” he said.

TechSydney has argued that the new precinct should follow in the footsteps of the Station F development in Paris, a $300 million, 34,000 sqm site that is now the biggest startup campus in the world.

The site provides space for up to 1000 startups and early-stage companies, with corporate partners including Facebook and Microsoft.

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