Australia is missing out on a technology gold rush: Matt Barrie

Matt Barrie, CEO of ASX-listed Freelancer, wants to abolish state governments in a bid to retain and attract talent, and fix the technology crisis the nation currently finds itself in.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

In the middle of an historical boom in technology, Australia is missing out due to education and innovation being tied up in the bureaucratic confusion and absurd policies of state governments, according to Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.

Speaking at the Knowledge Nation 2016 summit in Sydney, a passionate Barrie said that terrifying people into innovating is the result of regulatory duplication, confusion and duplication of responsibilities, or the mindless populism of absurd policies of state governments.

"The situation, I believe, is an absolute crisis," he said. "If there's one thing we need to do to fix this industry, it is get more people into it. Unfortunately, the curriculum in high school pays lip service to technology."

Barrie believes getting all state governments to agree to modernise the curriculum is an "exercise in futility or sadomasochism".

"I've come to the conclusion it's actually all too hard to fix," he said.

"I think we should abolish state governments."

Publicly critical of the decisions New South Wales Premier Mike Baird has previously made, Barrie said the state government was "so addicted to gambling taxes and gambling revenue that it's shut down most of Sydney's nightlife in order to boost this limelight by funnelling people into the casino or pokies rooms". With gambling and betting taxes driving AU$1.2 billion in revenue for the state, Barrie said shutting down nightlife is paraded to the masses under the guise of health and safety.

"It's a bit hard to build a technology industry when every second 20-year-old wants to leave because you've turned the place into a bumpkin country town," he said. "If you're trying to attract young, smart people back to Australia, it's a bit hard when #nannystate is trending on Twitter."

Barrie said the state needs to build a place where young people want to be, saying a Sydney under Baird's oppression will never be a technology hub if all the young people want to flee overseas.

"You're kidding yourself if you think one day they're going to come back," he said.

Previously, Barrie contacted a top recruiter in Silicon Valley in an attempt to bring some overseas talent to Australia. Met with hesitation, Barrie said the recruiter blatantly told him that nobody in Silicon Valley will go to Australia for any role.

"We used to think that someone will move for a lifestyle thing but they don't even want to do that anymore," the recruiter told Barrie. "It's not that they aren't being paid well, it's that it is backwater."

This is what it's like trying to attract, retain, and incentivise talent in Australia, Barrie said.

When recruiting for his own company, which is one of the world's largest online outsourcing firms, Barrie said he receives a handful of good applicants to fill a software role, yet receives 350 in two days for an office management role.

"My first thought was 'Who's going to look through all these applications', and my second was 'Who is going to retrain all these people'," he said.

According to Barrie, there is no other industry that can create such immense wealth and long-term benefit to the world with such capital efficiency as the technology industry, and that we are in the grips of a technology gold rush.

"Australia is completely missing out," he said.

Highlighting Australia's top ten publicly listed companies as being a pair of mining companies, five banks, a former monopoly telephone company, and a supermarket, Barrie said that with 69 percent of the nation's GDP being services, Australia's economy is in the Stone Age.

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