Australia’s home-grown global software giant Atlassian has beefed up its public policy focus with a fresh set of eyes hired out of Microsoft to oversee engagement with governments, both here and overseas.
Atlassian appointed Canberra-based David Masters to the newly created role of director of global public policy in November as part of a significant shift in the way it engages on policy issues. Mr Masters was previously Microsoft Australia’s director of corporate, a position he held for more than seven years.
Two months after Mr Masters was hired into the company, Atlassian published a creative commons document ‘Eight Principles’ that it says should guide the development of sound tech policy.
In this episode the Commercial Disco podcast, I talked to David Masters about the challenges of policy formation in the tech sector Australia, and the industry’s track record on engagement with government, and with its ability to influence government policy.
Atlassian hopes the eight principles document it has published will be picked up by other companies and used to help their own internal thinking about specific policy issues.
It is part of broader desire among the growing list of globally successful Australian technology companies for an uplift in the maturity of public policy discussions in the local tech sector, and a deeper and more effective engagement with bureaucrats and legislators.
“If you are going to engage with government, it’s really helpful if government knows where you stand. It is also useful to have a set of principles that help to guide your internal thought processes,” Mr Masters says.
“So as you see regulatory proposals come across the desk from government – this is from a global sense, not just Australia but from the US and Europe – it’s good to have a set of grounding guidelines that help you to understand ‘what do we think of that’ and to do it in a rigorous way,” he said.
This is a genuinely fascinating discussion for anyone who has watched the tech industry in this country, and the way the sector has evolved. Australian-headquartered companies in the tech industry have a patchy record of engagement with governments, it would be fair to say.
But creating an Australian voice for the sector is not as straight-forward in tech than it is in other, more homogenous industries.
Mr Masters points to the banking industry in which the four big banks do very similar things in a highly regulated industry – and largely care about the same issues. Similarly, with the Minerals Council, it is looking at mining sector issues that are pretty consistent across participants in the industry.
“The problem that we have in the tech sector is that you have large and small companies, you have horizontal and vertical solutions, you’ve got different business models – proprietary, freemium, open source, ad-funded – so coming to a consistent policy approach and set of policy interests is really hard and I don’t want to diminish that,” he said.
The challenge that’s seen in Canberra, where Mr Masters lives, in terms of the local tech industry’s engagement with the federal government is that they are typically focused on selling to government.
“So their engagement day to day with government is as a commercial transactional relationship. A lot of the policy engagement that you see from the indigenous (local) industry is very much focused on government as a customer, which complicates the broader policy conversation,” he said.
“Because as soon as you start to have that commercial interaction, you find that the policy-makers in the legislative part of departments tend to want to switch off. They want to push that [conversation] to the CIO group.
“That’s the fundamental challenge. We need to elevate the conversation from the indigenous industry out of procurement,” Mr Masters said.
“I am not diminishing procurement as a relevant issue, but that sometimes does the broader policy conversation a disservice,” he says, because all the focus ends up just on procurement and not on other important broader issues.
Atlassian’s eight principles for sound tech policy
Principle 1: Define the playing field.
Is this measure aimed directly at clear objectives?
Principle 2: Engage with the issue.
Do we have a clear understanding of the technology?
Principle 3: Treat the ailment, don’t kill the patient.
Does this measure use proportionate means and minimise unintended consequences?
Principle 4: Consult early, consult openly.
Has this measure been the product of meaningful consultation?
Principle 5: Let the light in.
Does this measure provide transparency and create fair procedures?
Principle 6: Address behaviour, don’t punish success.
Is this measure aimed at systemic actions and outcomes, rather than individual companies?
Principle 7: Tech (and trust) is global.
Is this measure mindful of global standards and seeking to enhance global interoperability?
Principle 8: Build the foundation for shared success.
Does this measure provide a consistent and reliable framework for business and investment?