Stephen Conroy's opus on the future direction of Australia's Digital Economy mainly curates existing success stories and government policies, and does little to demonstrate any form of roadmap to take the nation out of the Dark Ages.
commentary The location of the launch of Stephen
Conroy's Digital Economy: Future Directions paper last night could
not have been more appropriate, considering the report's
Those who've been to the Powerhouse Museum will know it holds
such wonderfully modern examples of technology as steam trains and
even a horse-drawn pump engine.
Likewise, Conroy's opus has done a fantastic job of curating well-known Australian technology success stories, without doing much at all
to demonstrate how more such wonders of the world could be brought
into being. Just noting existing government policies is not going to do it.
The report, disappointingly, does not constitute, as Conroy claimed,
a strategic roadmap on how to transform Australia's digital economy
from one of the developed world's weakest into anything even
faintly resembling a powerhouse of innovation like the capabilities
possessed by Israel, Japan, Silicon Valley or Korea.
As Stuart Corner, one of Australia's most experienced technology
"It's full of motherhood statements, case studies on successful
Australian digital entrepreneurs that are without doubt
inspirational and it repeats ad nauseam the importance of the
digital economy and the need for all sections of industry to get on
Having forced myself through the whole 103 pages ... I
wholeheartedly agree. The release of such a self-congratulatory report
does much to demonstrate that the Rudd Government's approach to
developing Australia's digital economy is very similar to that of
its Coalition predecessor and most of Australia's state
With the exception of Victoria, Australia's governments have done very little over the past two decades to foster ICT innovation within their fiefdoms
With the exception of Victoria, Australia's governments have
done very little over the past two decades to foster ICT innovation
within their fiefdoms, preferring to concentrate instead on the
resources, agricultural and even manufacturing sectors. Long-standing Queensland ICT Minister Robert Schwarten went so
far in June as to declare that a mammoth and intense lobbying
effort by the state's entire ICT industry during the recent state
election had "no effect whatsoever".
Yet, as the report itself
highlights, in the next several decades, it is technological and
content supremacy that could allow Australia to take a much
stronger position on the world stage.
The few areas in which the report does suggest new policies to
tackle the digital economy appear to be sideline cases or actually
to take the debate backward.
It is unclear, for example, whether there is widespread demand
for new regulations to target illegal file-sharing or to include
new platforms such as social networking sites under "safe harbour"
laws that limit liability in intellectual property theft cases, as
the Future Directions report proposes.
Ten years of working in and writing about Australia's ICT
industry leads your writer to believe that much stronger incentives
are needed if Australia is truly to develop a digital economy. And
by incentives, I mean money.
Australia needs to create extremely desirable taxation
situations for multinational technology, content production (film,
TV, new media and especially computer gaming) giants to set up shop
within our borders.
We need to lure these firms one by one, with sweet promises of
Australia needs to set up similar taxation schemes to
incentivise local technology start-ups of any flavour to get their
operations off the ground, and similar regulations that would make
it attractive for venture capital and early stage investors to find
a home down under. We need to nurture these companies as carefully as we would
Thirdly, we need to immediately cut any barrier to
entry to students entering technology courses at a tertiary level
and dramatically raise lecturer conditions as well as increasing
their numbers. We need to make students want to study
The report, disappointingly, does not constitute, as Conroy claimed, a strategic roadmap on how to transform Australia's digital economy
There are very few mentions in Conroy's report of any of these
kind of measures.
Now, I'm not sure how much time the minister or his
staff have spent out on the road in recent times talking to the Australian technology community about the problems it faces. But ZDNet.com.au has, and there's a few facts we'd like to
pass back up the ladder.
Mick Liubinskas and Phil Morle's merry band at Pollenizer and the guys behind Startup Camp
are probably doing more in real terms to build Australia's
technology start-up community than the entire NICTA and CSIRO
groups are. The fact that the CSIRO is currently suing every Wi-Fi provider in existence isn't garnering
Australia a great reputation, and NICTA has long been viewed by the industry as a token effort.
Australian start-up RedBubble generated almost as much buzz as
the entire Future Directions launch last night during its event at
the same time at the Hive in Melbourne. The company told the
audience it's almost impossible to get venture capital in Australia
as an internet company. That's how bad it is. Great juxtaposition there.
To add insult to injury, one of Conroy's own backbenchers, Kate Lundy, has
single-handedly galvanised a massive wave of development in using
technology to improve government collaboration and improve citizen
engagement. Her effort — from the back bench — is dwarfing Conroy's own, from the position of minister.
Now the obvious rejoinder to all of this is that the Federal Government is in fact investing a massive amount in the Australian technology scene. I refer to the $43 billion being ploughed into the National Broadband Network.
The NBN does have the potential to create a lot of jobs, as Conroy has pointed out. However, these will in the short term be jobs in the construction industry as the fibre rolls out, and later on, in the internet service provider industry.
It is drawing a long bow indeed to state as a bald fact that the creation of a strong network like the NBN will automatically lead to the creation of a vast swatch of companies in the higher levels of the technology and content stack that the NBN sits at the bottom of.
The NBN is a content transmission platform; not an investment incentive scheme.
Is Conroy's Future Directions paper a concrete plan or a waste of time? Post your comments below this article or send a letter to the editor.