Tech leaders say 'wishy-washy' politicians are failing Australia
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Tech leaders say 'wishy-washy' politicians are failing Australia

Leading figures in Australia's blossoming technology industry fear instability in Canberra and ongoing tensions within the Liberal Party will threaten Australia's progress on innovation despite Scott Morrison's elevation to prime minister.

Daniel Petre, the respected former Packer lieutenant, who worked closely with Bill Gates at Microsoft, said he was "depressed" by events this week in Canberra. Mr Petre, who now runs tech investment firm AirTree Ventures, is concerned the Liberal Party's conservative wing will continue to move the government in an anti-science, anti-innovation direction.

Daniel Petre said he was "depressed" by events this week in Canberra.

Daniel Petre said he was "depressed" by events this week in Canberra.

Photo: Peter Braig

"The Right will just tear the party apart," he said. "Clearly, for the last while not a lot has been done in Australia because there is a small group of right-wing nutters who are hellbent on revenge rather than doing anything for the country. We are already behind the eight-ball and this will set us back."

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder of $25 billion software firm Atlassian, recently told Fairfax Media he was perplexed by the Australian political system's inability to deal with challenges such as climate change and immigration, as politicians focused on internal party manoeuvring.

"I look at some of the politicians, and I'm very disappointed in their inability to be able to speak their minds," he said in an interview in July. "Having known a lot of them personally, I'm like, 'You really think that?' And they say, 'No, I think the opposite, but the party position is this.' On both sides."

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Flavia Tata Nardini, an Italian born rocket scientist and the chief executive of Fleet, an Adelaide based nano-satellite company, said she hoped the new Morrison government would continue to promote innovation.

"I really hope we will keep riding this wave of innovation," she said.

Fleet CEO Flavia Tata Nardini says tech really needs a global approach.

Fleet CEO Flavia Tata Nardini says tech really needs a global approach.

Photo: Christopher Pearce

"I am an immigrant myself and if you look, a lot of the co-founders [of tech companies] are immigrants in this country," she said. "Tech really needs a global approach and needs open doors to bring talent in. "

Peter Dutton, who lost the leadership ballot to Mr Morrison, proposed a cut to the immigration intake. Mr Morrision's position on the issue is unclear.

"Do we have a successful history of growing a bigger pie for everybody in Australia by immigration?" Mr Cannon-Brookes said. "Yes. Has it always been easy? No. It's always been hard!"

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes ... disappointed in their inability to be able to speak their minds.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes ... disappointed in their inability to be able to speak their minds.

Photo: Louie Douvis

Deposed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was unable to steer his signature energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee, which would have lowered carbon emissions, through the Liberal party room amid resistance from conservatives.

"The Feds have been so wishy-washy. There is no clear position on where they stand [on energy and climate change], it seems to change," Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

Mr Petre, who in 2016 was appointed by Mr Turnbull to the government's Innovation and Science board, said he was concerned about the policy agenda of the Liberal Party's right wing.

"They just don't understand. They are living in the 1950s. They don't understand technology or innovation, or the positive impact of immigration, and that there is a war for talent globally," he said. "There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how technology is underpinning everything and will be the basis for our future economic prosperity.

"We are going back to an economy with coal-fired power stations built by the government. Can you imagine?"

Mr Cannon-Brookes said he found Canberra mystifying.

"For me, there are two problems with politics. One is, people start with a given position. They can't apply logic to it, they can't sit there and go, 'What is the best solution here? Let's go with that'.

"The second problem with politics is government's inability to experiment. Government is unable to say, 'Here's an idea. Let's try it.' They have to be, 'Here's a plan. It's going to work.' And then it has to work."

Paul Bassat, a co-founder of $7 billon online job search portal Seek, who currently runs Melbourne-based tech investment fund Square Peg Capital, said on Twitter the Liberal Party "plotters have humiliated themselves (who cares) & hurt the country".

"To misquote Keating; this was the coup we didn’t have to have. Ultimately political wars in the US and Oz have similar origins; organised & reactionary minority desperately trying to stop the march of history," he said.

John McDuling writes about business, technology and the economy. Previously he was a reporter for Quartz in New York, covered telecommunications and markets for the Financial Review, and worked in the finance industry.