Long technology wishlist for federal election
The technology industry is adamant it needs more support from the federal government, writes Sylvia Pennington.
High tech policy is unlikely to be a key part of the compaign platform for the major parties before the September 7 election, but that is not stopping the industry from identifying the main areas for action.
The Australian Computer Society called for the main parties to tackle issues it claims are preventing the economy from prospering in the digital era, including the controversial problem of ICT skills shortages.
The society recommended reversing the decline in tertiary enrolments, reforming school curricula, introducing professional standards and certification for workers, and upping support for “displaced workers, particularly those of a mature age”. It also wanted to improve digital literacy for small businesses, and sought the provision of “open data” from the government, which it believed would boost innovation in the private sphere.
It also wanted a technology ministerial council, to increase the flow of advice from industry to government. It would be comprised of vendors, large users and professional bodies. Suggested projects for the council included an audit of state and federal ICT assistance programs and the establishment of an industry and government exchange program for staff.
The Australian Information Industries Association released its election platform statement earlier this year along broadly similar lines. It called for support to accelerate takeup of the national broadband network, increased research funding, assistance for small and medium businesses to adopt digital technologies, and strategies to address ICT skills shortages.
Even Australia's Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, has warned that without a strategic approach to the key areas of science, maths, technology and engineering, Australia will find itself at the back of the global pack.
Microsoft Australia CEO Pip Marlow said the ICT sector continued to play second fiddle to traditional industries, in particular the resources sector, despite its potential to create national wealth.
“What got Australia to where it is today won’t get it there tomorrow,” Ms Marlow said.
“The mining boom is shifting phases. Digital is flattening the world.”
Better IT education and a business culture that encouraged creativity and entrepreneurship were vital to success – but lacking, Ms Marlow said.
“If Australia was a business, there is no way it would let its best ideas and talent walk out the door to a competitor. Yet, too often that is exactly what happens today.”
The Australian Computer Society has come under fire from ICT workers in the past for supporting the use of 457 visas in the sector. The number of sponsored workers on 457s has risen from 5327 in 2009 to 9271 in 2011-12, despite a market slowdown. Critics say importing foreign workers erodes local salaries, conditions and opportunities, while the ACS maintains the visa system provides a vital means for companies to combat a dearth of skilled staff. Meanwhile tertiary ICT enrolments have halved over the past decade.
Pipe Networks founder and high tech investor Steve Baxter said producing more ICT graduates and making it easier for them to become entrepreneurs should be a priority for the next government.
“Encourage them to start a business, have the support structures in place to help them and ensure that the current obstacles to business growth in the start-up space are removed or minimised,” Mr Baxter said.