Vic funded tech conferences MIA

James Riley
Editorial Director

A large tech conference due to take place in Melbourne this year has been postponed, despite the Victorian government paying for the rights to hold it exclusively in the state from 2017.

Victorian innovation minister Philip Dalidakis claimed to have obtained the “exclusive rights” to hold US-based non-profit Girls in Tech’s Catalyst conference in Melbourne this year in a travel expenses report for a two-week trip to the US in September last year. The trip cost taxpayers more than $55,000, accounting for Mr Dalidakis and one staffer’s travel.

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“I secured the exclusive rights in Australia to the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference making Melbourne the first place in the southern hemisphere to host the organisation’s premier event from 2017. The conference showcases and promotes women at the forefront of technology,” Mr Dalidakis said in the report.

But Mr Dalidakis now consedes the conference will not take place in Melbourne this year, and has been postponed until “early to mid 2018”.

“LaunchVic entered a contract in February 2017 with Girls in Tech Australia (GiTA) to provide the Catalyst conference. Girls in Tech Australia requested a variation to the contract for the conference to occur in early to mid-2018 as they required further time to deliver a sufficiently high-impact event,” Mr Dalidakis told in a statement.

“LaunchVic have agreed to this variation, and the project is progressing in accordance with the terms of the new contract. The Australasian conference will proceed and be exclusive to Victoria. It will act as a catalyst for innovation, startups and entrepreneurship, and help to enhance gender diversity in the sector.”

The trip to the US also saw the Mr Dalidakis leading the Victorian Cyber Security trade mission, meeting with “key innovation leaders”, and convincing a number of tech companies to establish a local presence in Melbourne.

The Girls in Tech conference received its funding after the Victorian government terminated its agreement to provide $1 million over five years to bring the StartCon festival to Melbourne.

Instead of funding StartCon, the government said it would spend the money to three diversity-focused tech conferences to run in 2017: Girls in Tech Catalyst, Above All Human and Pause Fest.

But only one of these conferences actually took place in 2017. Above All Human was also cancelled, but is expected to be held next year. The government has not revealed how much funding it has provided to each of these conferences through LaunchVic.

Above All Human, which was regarded as one of the best startup conferences in Australia and was run by Startup Victoria, was originally slated to take place earlier this year, but delays in preparation and organisation led to it being rescheduled for May next year. No date has been set for the Girls in Tech Catalyst conference for next year.

Mr Dalidakis was questioned by the Opposition over the disappearing Girls in Tech conference in Parliament last week, and shadow innovation minister Craig Ondarchie has slammed the delayed conference and the Minister’s early announcement.

“Never has Victoria had a minister that has spent so much time, money and effort securing opportunities for other economies. Here we go again,” Mr Ondarchie said.

“Frequent flyer minister Dalidakis claims he’s personally secured another conference for Victoria for 2017 and it actually happens in San Francisco.

“Last time, he stood on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall and boasted and he’d stolen StartCon from Sydney only to find that conference was subsequently held in Randwick,” he said.

The Catalyst conference set to take place in Melbourne was not meant to replace the Girls in Tech event that it runs annually in San Francisco, and was rather an expansion of the event into the southern hemisphere.

StartCon also never took place in Melbourne, despite the Victorian government announcing would bring the conference to the state from 2016 with $1 million in funding over five years.

Due to delays in incorporating LaunchVic, the conference stayed put in Sydney that year, and discussions between Freelancer and the Victorian government quickly broke down.

In September last year Mr Dalidakis announced that the government would no longer be providing the funding to StartCon.

He said this was due to being unwilling to sign up to the government’s 50-50 gender ratio for conferences, something which was contested by CEO Matt Barrie, who unleashed a public tirade against Mr Dalidakis and released emails between his staff and the Victorian government.

Mr Dalidakis said the $1 million set aside for StartCon would instead go towards the other three conferences, with only Pause Fest actually running this year as intended.

The conference took place at the start of the year, and last month received a further $300,000 in state government funding for the next two years.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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