Renewed Australian tech innovation – will it keep our best and brightest home

There are apparently 20,000+ Australian tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. They left Australia, as there is limited ability to pursue what they are passionate about here. The government and business environment, hampered by conservatism and a risk adverse culture, stifles their creativity and throttles funding for early stage commercialisation.

The Australian tech entrepreneur community is rejoicing this week. Finally we have a Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull who is a friend. He is placing innovation and technology at the forefront of Australia’s political agenda. Its a brave move, with significant inertia in all levels of government and business needing to be addresses. Can it be overcome? Will anything change?

These are hard questions to answer succinctly in this post. My initial rejoicing, the same as others, has been quickly bought back to one of the usual lethargy about pursing activity in Australia. The Australian business executive, politicians and government people, appear to be IMHO, living in this dream world, that they have nothing to fear about technology disruption. I believe this, like many other entrepreneurs to be a misguided view.

In the past, Australia as a country, has had economic success from primary production and resources. The last decade seeing a mining boom, fuelled by Iron ore, being supplied to China, producing significant wealth. It enabled the economy to ride out the GFC (Mk I & Mk II). However unlike in other parts of the world, it didn’t clean out inefficient businesses. Its too much to go into the detail here about how technology in the US, reduced the need to rehire to same employment levels and beyond once the GFC was over. They just kept the same number of employees as they recovered i.e. they became more productive.

Australia has one of the worst productivity ratios of any OECD country. The economy now is fuelled by banking and property (Sydney and Melbourne prices have not burst and the ratio of house prices to wages means many simply will not own one in their lifetimes). But this thinking that bricks & mortar, property is a safe bet, permeates throughout levels of execs be it private or public sector.

There are generations in the Australian work forces, that have never bought to market novel invention, which is the crux of innovation. Such that if you try to have a meaningful discussion, they block everything out. They just don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to talk about it. Even worse they think its SEP (Someone Else’s Problem) so they’ll just sit back and wait to find out. In my eye, its just so wrong.

There are major issues ahead for the federal government, and I keep hearing that communication will be a key part of any policy. Yet I fear, that as an economy we do not have the time or budget to re-educate/bring along these people. Most just like things the way they are now. If we leave it that way, our lifestyles will continue to suffer and the real value of our wages will also continue to decline.

Whats to be done with them? As a nation do we just increase welfare and accept that unemployment will continue to rise?

It does sound harsh, but the smart ones, have already left our shores (Many more want to follow but can’t for various reasons). They won’t want to come back to work with people, that just don’t get what they are talking about. They’ll want people, that can openly debate and discuss the matter at hand, in an intelligent way.

If we invest more in innovation, science and entrepreneurship in Australia, will we attract any of the 20,000 back. Maybe a few, but that’d be natural. Having visited the Bay Area a few times, I feel that the government has a lot of work to even start to come close. Presently it just appears to be euphoria – we’ll need to see actual dollars being invested and attitudes changed. Hopefully, a new batch of political leaders will also be installed to help pave the way. So it’ll take a while.

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