The federal government’s poorly implemented tech-focused legislation and lack of consultation with industry is damaging investment in local R&D, according to Google Australia public policy manager Alex Lynch.
Speaking on a webinar to launch a new report by the United States Studies Centre, Mr Lynch said he hears many large tech companies say they are unwilling to invest further in Australia because of the uncertainty around government policies.
“We have fallen well behind the rest of the world when it comes to investment in digital technology. It is really a huge risk for the Australian economy. What we’re hearing from the boards of large Australian companies is, ‘why would we invest now, we have no idea that six months down the track there’ll be a big change that makes this investment invalid?’,” Mr Lynch said.
“A lot of the time policy has been made and legislated inside a week with no response from industry. In a lot of these cases you look at the policies and processes that go into making them, and clearly, they are leading to problematic outcomes, even from the basic standards of fairness.”
Many Australian regulations have not kept pace with the digital world, Mr Lynch said, leaving companies unable to conduct some cutting-edge technology R&D here.
“We would love to be able to invest more here but even if you dig into the policy details you see risks. You find these little nuggets in a variety of policy areas where Australia just hasn’t modernised its legislative framework,” he said.
“When you combine that with very ad-hoc and poorly thought through policies, you start to wonder how we think about our business and investments for the future here when they may be turned on their head in six months and we may get no opportunity to comment on that.”
Former Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Canberra James Carouso, who also spoke on the panel, saying that US companies operating in Australia are often more enthusiastic and confident in the abilities of Australians than the Australian companies.
He said the iron triangle of academia, government and industry is missing a link locally, and part of this is down to a cultural approach to innovation, which saw former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “broadly mocked” for broaching the issue.
“If that’s the cultural view – that innovation is distrusted or not real somehow, it’s going to be harder for the country to get ahead and spend more in this area,” Mr Carouso said.
Queensland government innovation lead Dr Sarah Pearson said innovation investment should be viewed with a jobs lens.
“We need to think about innovation in the terms of jobs, and part of that is getting into peoples’ shoes. We need to remove the fear and get excited about building these jobs,” Dr Pearson said.