Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has downplayed Atlassian's decision to relocate to the United Kingdom for better tax treatment than it gets in Australia, but has said that more can be done to encourage startups in Australia.
On January 29, shareholders in the Australian-based software company will vote on whether to move its head operations to the UK, which the company's founders Scott Farquhar and Michael Cannon-Brookes believe would allow the company to grow and potentially look towards a US initial public offering.
The move has reignited questions about the sustainability of Australia's technology startup sector, and the support it is receiving from the government to stay local. In an interview with ZDNet in February last year, Farquhar himself said that tax laws in Australia are not helpful for startups.
"I think the local tax laws are a struggle, and I think equity-raising laws are a struggle, too. I'd like to see more of the policy changes to make the startup scene better," he said.
"Most people, including myself, would recommend to startups to incorporate their companies overseas. I think the government can do a lot more with startups, and I'll keep pounding on that until we see some meaningful traction."
The issue reached the Australian communications minister today, who is in the United States this week meeting with tech giants such as Facebook and Google, along with startups like Square and funders like AngelList. In a Facebook Q&A he conducted while at Facebook's headquarters, Turnbull said that Atlassian's move to the UK has been exaggerated.
"That 'move' is rather exaggerated; it does not involve moving their team or their business there as it happens, more of a corporate move," he said.
"But you are right in saying we need to do more to encourage innovative companies in Australia, it is a keen matter of interest for me — an obvious area is rectifying the anomalous treatment of employee shares and options in [Australia]."
Turnbull has previously advocated reviewing the way employee stock schemes are taxed as part of the Coalition government's commission of audit.
"We should have an employee share scheme that is comparable to the regime, for example, in the United States. It's crazy not to, because otherwise, you're just creating another reason for people to start their business in America rather than here," he said in a speech in November.
He has also said that the government is currently reviewing crowd-funding models as a method of encouraging investment in Australian businesses.
"The Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee is currently conducting a review of how crowd-sourced equity could be part of the Australian business funding system as a means of encouraging new investment models," he said.
"Obviously, you know, there's a need to, as the United States has done, to get the appropriate balance between harnessing this terrific potential of crowd-funding for new businesses versus the, you know, the risks, the consumer risks, the investor risks."