Industry groups push for change

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia’s technology-facing industry groups have welcomed the strong election commitments to the sector from both the major parties, although each has imposed caveats related to the ability of whoever wins on Saturday to deliver on these promises. conducted a straw-poll of industry groups in the past 48 hours on who had the better set of policies for our sector, and which side they would recommend to their constituencies.

We received responses from the Australian Computer Society, the Australian Information Industry Association, the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Internet Australia and StartupAus.

None of the groups were prepared to direct votes one way or the other. Each applauded the bipartisan support that innovation policy has attracted from the parties.

There is a roll-call of issues noted as important to the industry – most notably around local STEM skills, the NBN and its ongoing roll-out – but each group also highlighted issues of specific interest.

If there is one area where these groups wanted that bipartisan support to continue through implementation – whichever side wins on Saturday – it was in relation to the commitments to developing local STEM talent. This issue held particular importance to the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Information Industry Association.

AIIA chief executive Rob Fitzpatrick said both sides should be applauded for the bipartisan support for improving Australia’s performance in innovation, and in particular, technology led innovation, with both sides having expressed a refreshing understanding of the critical importance of digital technology in driving Australia’s growth and global competitiveness.

He says “we are spoilt for choice” in this election, with government and opposition making commitments to building STEM capability, gender diversity in STEM, supporting teachers to be STEM literate, improved links between industry and the research, backing startups and innovative companies, [and offering] incentives and support for innovators and entrepreneurs.

“The issue for our members is execution – making promises real through genuine action and investment,” Mr Fitzpatrick says. “Given that both sides of politics support the priority of innovation and STEM, we expect a bipartisan approach to executing promised action in these areas sooner rather than later – irrespective of who is successful on Saturday.”

The AIIA has expressed concern and disappointment at the state of the National Broadband Network. The group says there is too much focus on the infrastructure rather than accelerating the rollout.

“The lack of urgency to address the undisputed fact that Australia is falling behind in the global broadband speed stakes, putting at risk our ability to exploit the economic and social opportunities of digital technology and technology-led innovation, continues to be a concern.”

The issue of government modernising how it operates and delivers services has gone somewhat under the radar, with the AIIA welcoming the Coalition’s commitment to honing its focus on government digital services.

“We continue to support the concept of the DTO, but post-election will be looking for broader agency buy-in to the government digital transformation agenda and the delivery of tangible improvements across a range of mainstream services,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley says the startup sector had made great strides and was looking for the momentum to continue after the election.

“We’ve been reassured by the rhetorical commitment of both sides to startups and innovation during this election campaign,” Mr McCauley said.

“After the election startups will expect to see bold, ambitious policy development and implementation in support of that rhetoric. The largely bipartisan National Innovation and Science Agenda set a good platform for further action in the second half of 2016.”

“We need to move away from thinking that this is about ‘handouts’ to the startup sector. It’s actually about helping our economy transition into the digital age more swiftly and effectively.”

“It’s about addressing market gaps which limit the formation and growth of a truly meaningful technology sector in this country. It’s about not missing out on the vast economic benefits technology has to offer.”

So what’s still missing? StartupAus is looking for changes to the R&D tax incentive scheme. While lauding the program as one of the best in the world, the group is pressing for important tweaks. Specifically it wants the R&D incentive to be paid quarterly and for the quantum to be doubled for early-stage, high-growth startups.

StartupAus is also seeking visa changes to improve access to globally experienced talent: “We have a shortage of appropriately skilled technology professionals and mentors in Australia.”

It also wants to make employee share schemes more open, allowing fast-growing companies to keep hiring employees in Australia.

The Australian Computer Society says both sides of politics had put forward credible and forward-looking policies in its core areas of interest, from STEM education, university skills, digital literacy, cyber-security and the NBN/broadband.

The society is not indicating to its 22,000 members which way they should cast their vote on Saturday. But it has applauded the life that has been breathed into the innovation debate at this election.

“We’re just happy that we’ve finally got an election where we have had innovation and technology featuring so prominently in this debate,” said ACS public affairs director Athol Chalmers.

Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry also welcomed the level of discussion on technology and innovation issues during the campaign. But IGEA has a special beef with both sides of politics related to support for the Australian developer community.

For IGEA, local games innovators have fallen through the cracks between portfolios. Australia has excellent games talent, he says, with superb creatives on the one hand and excellent techs on the other.

The issue has been that funding falls somewhere between the Arts portfolio and the Industry portfolio. So that while the film industry gets strong support from Arts, the games sector is overlooked – despite the box office returns for games being bigger than film.

A recent Senate committee report of had recommended a raft of improved industry support measures.

“Unfortunately, throughout the election campaign, the Senate Committee’s report has for the most part slipped through the cracks, despite the unanimous recommendations of the multi-party committee, they have not found their way into policy initiatives from either the Coalition or the ALP,” Mr Curry said.

“Adopting the recommendations of the Senate’s report would give the industry an enormous boost, and allow it to achieve its great potential. Australia has the capacity to deliver to the world cutting-edge digital products and technologies that are globally competitive as a weightless and ‘clean’ export industry.”

Internet Australia chief executive Laurie Patton has called on whichever party wins the election to conduct a review of the National Broadband Network and appealed for bipartisan support for a strategy that focusses on deploying the best long-term technologies and infrastructure to meet the nation’s needs now and well beyond 2020.

“We’ve fallen to 60th on global speed rankings, from 30th just a few years ago. New Zealand out-performs us and Singapore, arguably our biggest regional competitor, already delivers broadband speeds 100 times faster than ours, Mr Patton said. “How can we become an innovation nation if we don’t have the tools required?”

“Fibre is the only sensible way to connect the Internet to people’s homes and businesses. We have consistently argued that the use of ageing copper wires will deliver an inferior service which will not be fit-for-purpose even before the rollout has been completed,” he said.

“There is a limit to how much faster we can make the copper go, whereas those with fibre connections will experience significant speeds gains in coming years.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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