Robyn Denholm’s clarion call to grow the Aussie tech sector

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Tesla chair Robyn Denholm has issued a clarion call to all of Australia, from governments at all levels to small businesses, to get behind a national mission to transform the country into a tech powerhouse.

In a keynote address at the InnovationAus 2021 Awards for Excellence on Wednesday night, Ms Denholm lauded Australia’s tech success stories and the recent growth of the sector, but said much more needs to be done to capitalise on the opportunities on offer.

Ms Denholm is the inaugural chair of the Technology Council of Australia and is also an operating partner at Blackbird Ventures.

Tech Council of Australia Chair Robyn Denholm

Ms Denholm said there needs to be a “national effort” for the tech council’s three lofty goals to be achieved: 1 million tech-related jobs by 2025, $250 billion in GDP from tech related jobs by 2025 and for Australia to be the best place to found and scale a company.

“We believe there is a huge opportunity for Australia to accelerate the pace at which we are growing the sector. If we get this right, we will unlock vital benefits for Australia and we will build a growth engine for the Australian economy for generations to come,” Ms Denholm said at the gala black-tie dinner.

“Australia has an opportunity to become a regional tech hub in the Asia-Pacific. We have a safe and secure environment, a stable government, and companies investing here have certainty.

“There is also a deep cultural diversity alongside strong academic institutions, particularly our outstanding universities who attract the best and brightest minds from around the world.”

She called for a significant focus on the tech skills shortage, increased investment in research and development and more tech-friendly regulations from government.

“Today Australia is underweight in direct and indirect expenditure on R&D, and also on the amount of VC investment compared to our global peers,” Ms Denholm said.

“Australia’s biggest market gap versus similar economies is in creating and attracting large tech sector firms.”

With better regulations, Australia can become a world-leader in creating and adopting new tech products, she said.

“To do this, we need a regulatory environment that is proportionate and predictable, interoperable with other jurisdictions and that consistently follows a set of best practice regulatory principles,” Ms Denholm said.

“Australia is currently sitting between a laggard and medium performer. Modernising our regulatory models is therefore critical to meeting our jobs and growth goals.”

The tech leader lauded Australia’s tech success stories, but also called for recognition of failure and the learnings associated with that.

“Australia has always been a nation that has punched above its weight when it comes to innovation. The Australian tech sector is a vital source of jobs and growth, both in the sector itself as an industry or a vertical as well as horizontal across all sectors throughout the broad economy,” she said.

“Australia has built an impressive track record to compete globally through technology in all areas, and today we are growing generational technology companies right here in Australia.”

These tech companies are “collectively transforming the Australian economy”, Ms Denholm said.

“Critically, as the InnovationAus awards categories highlight, the tech sector activity is not limited to software firms, but is spread across the economy, including in key industries like health, mining, manufacturing, primary industries, banking and financial services,” she said.

“The tech industry combines the best features of Australia’s traditional industries – it is an exporting sector like mining, and a high-employing sector like banking. It is also opening up new economic opportunities for other industries to grow, or transform to meet the biggest challenges of our time, like the clean energy transition.”

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