Budget cut to diversity program disappoints tech sector

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The federal government laid the foundations for its tech jobs push in Tuesday’s Budget but industry and science groups want more detail and have criticised a $4 million cut to a women’s reskilling program.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down Labor’s first budget in nearly a decade on Tuesday night, emphasising its spending restraint and repair, as well as downgraded expectations.

The budget fulfilled several commitment’s the new government gave the tech sector on training, migration and emerging industries, but revealed some tech programs had been captured by Labor’s spending audit.

Tech Council chief executive Kate Pounder

The new government saved $3.9 million over two years in the budget by scrapping the Supporting Women’s Mid-Career Transition into the Tech Workforce program from the Coalition’s Digital Economy Strategy.

The budget did provide $5.8 million for women in STEM programs but this money is also being used to review the impact of the programs.

Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder said the cut to the reskilling program will hurt Labor’s plan to reach 1.2 million technology jobs by 2030.

“Women comprise only a quarter of the tech workforce, despite these roles being amongst the fastest-growing, most flexible and secure jobs in the country, with half the gender pay gap of other high-paying industries,” Ms Pounder said.

“So, we are disappointed to see funding cut to a program which had the potential to help improve these numbers.”

According to the Tech Council’s research, more women enter the tech workforce after the age of 25 than before the age of 25.

“Our research also shows that reskilling is a key pathway to get them into these jobs. Our sector offers incredible opportunity for women and we look forward to working with government to find a solution to address this crucial issue. We simply don’t agree that it is wasteful to support women to reskill into high-skilled, high-paid jobs.”

But the new government’s Budget was a good start overall, Ms Pounder said, welcoming the establishment of a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, more university and TAFE places, and quantum PhDs.

“We believe Australia has a once in a generation opportunity to be a global technology powerhouse, leading in critical tech fields that will be important to Australia’s future prosperity and security like Quantum, AI, robotics and cybersecurity,” she said.

The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) also welcomed the budget funding for areas of training, education, and clean energy.

“The budget contains welcome steps to future-proof Australian science and technology skills and jobs, and leverage greater diversity of talent and perspectives, which is essential to address urgent challenges,” ATSE president Professor Hugh Bradlow said.

“The Academy is also pleased to see funding to establish a National Electric Vehicle Charging Network which is crucial to support the energy transition,”

Professor Bradlow said the 20,000 new university places for areas of critical shortages is welcome, but much more would be needed, including a more detailed plan for the 1.2 million tech jobs goal

“While this is a step in the right direction, large-scale action is needed to deliver the tens of thousands of engineers that will be needed to fulfil the Government’s ambitious and necessary decarbonisation and manufacturing agendas,” he said.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) also welcomed the budget’s technology and skills programs, including a boost to the government’s own cybersecurity investment and NBN upgrades. But the group also wants more investment in emerging tech in the next budget.

“Areas around critical technologies, such as AI and Quantum, are of particular interest – they’ve received some funding in previous budgets but need far greater investment and accelerated implementation to ensure Australia can compete on a global stage,” AIIA chief executive Simon Bush said.

“The budget funding tonight of $4.8m towards greater support for Quantum research and PhD’s is definitely a step in the right direction, as we can not afford to fall further behind our international peers.”

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