​Labor to redirect StartupAUS spending if elected

Australia's startup advocacy group, StartupAUS, will be required to redirect the funds given to them by the federal government if Bill Shorten becomes prime minister next month.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

If elected next month, the federal opposition has announced that it would require the AU$360,000 already promised to industry group StartupAUS to be redirected towards innovation in regional Australia.

The funding injection was given to StartupAUS by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in May, with the funds originally intended to be spent on research into entrepreneurship in Australia.

But on Wednesday, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Digital Innovation and Startups Ed Husic said Labor would work with StartupAUS to map out the strongest possible pathways for increasing the role of regional Australia in the nation's innovation effort.

With two thirds of new early stage innovation firms emerging from Sydney, Husic said Labor wants to see a greater focus placed on plans to involve the entire country in the innovation conversation.

"Federal Labor has taken the view that this grant needs sharper focus on work that will have a meaningful impact: Mapping out ways for regional Australia to generate new firms and jobs beyond a few metropolitan cities," Labor said in a statement.

"This is why an elected Shorten Labor government would require that the AU$360,000 provided to StartupAUS be directed towards devising a strategy to boost the emergence of regionally based innovation communities."

It would be expected by a Shorten-led government that StartupAUS would draw together startup founder and investor expertise within Australia to frame an effective gameplan to boost regional innovation activity.

"This work would also examine overseas experiences in accelerating the establishment of regionally based innovation communities and then apply the lessons learned for the benefit of regional Australia," the opposition said.

The AU$360,000 StartupAUS would be expected to spend on regional innovation would be aimed at establishing up to 20 new accelerators over three years, based on applications to set up self-sustaining innovation hubs within universities and TAFEs that are closely integrated with the local business community.

A few days before Turnbull unveiled his AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda in December, Shorten proposed the set up of a regional launching pad with the aspiration to help turn Silicon Valley into Kangaroo Valley.

The idea of the launch pad, Shorten said previously, is to get the Australians that are working in Silicon Valley to achieve on a bigger stage and give them the opportunity to come back and reinvest in Australia.

"As a nation we're pretty smart but the issue is that at the moment, we're good at publishing some of the very best research papers in the world, but quite often what we need to do is give people their good ideas a chance to commercialise," he said.

In September, Shorten introduced a AU$17.8 million startup initiative he hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators. Shorten wants 2,000 students to partake in a "Startup Year" whilst at university to "develop their ideas, get business know-how, and connect with finance".

This initiative boosted the Labor Party's Australian university investment pledge to a total of AU$2.5 billion.

Shorten originally announced his intention to "kick-start the economy and create jobs" in his budget reply speech in May last year, outlining a plan if he were to become prime minister to turn Australia into the "science, startup, and technology capital" of the region.

Wednesday's announcement comes as Labor announced its revised plans for the National Broadband Network, which would see the phase out of fibre to the node after current contracts obligations are met, and attempt to return as many as 2 million premises to fibre to the premises connections.

"Labor will spend exactly the same amount of public funding on the NBN as the Liberals. There will be no impact on the Budget from this announcement," Shorten said in a statement. "The public equity contribution will be the same regardless of who wins the election.

"Fast broadband creates jobs. But you can't have an innovation boom while you are still buffering."

Last week, Shorten also announced plans to resuscitate former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's stalled research and development (R&D) Tax Incentive Bill, which would see the reduction of the rates of the R&D tax offsets in a bid to "improve the budget bottom line".

Turnbull came under fire last week for talking the startup talk, but not walking the startup walk with his election promises.

At the time, Alex McCauley, StartupAUS CEO, said the government's contribution is modest, but a good start.

"We've been told for some time that the series of policies announced by both sides last year was just the beginning, so we'd like to see both sides do more in this election campaign," McCauley said in a statement.

Last week, McCauley said the funding was far from sufficient and that there are three to four core areas both parties must look at addressing to help boot startups in the country, including helping entrepreneurs with co-working spaces and fund accelerator-style opportunities to help their companies grow quickly.

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