Labor wants 2,000 students annually to take out loans for a 'startup year'

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has today announced his plan to 'Get Australia Started' by promising AU$17.8 million in startup funding, creating two overseas startup visas, and allowing entrepreneurial time to university students.

The Australian Labor Party announced on Thursday a AU$17.8 million startup initiative it hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators.

Opposition Leader Bill 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", adding that whilst Australia has some "great startups", the country currently has one of the lowest rates of startup formation in the world.

"Labor will boost Australia's young aspiring entrepreneurial talent by providing income contingent loans to students to support their participation in university accelerators or similar incubators run by successful entrepreneurs," the Getting Australia Started fact sheet [PDF] said.

"The loan will cover the cost of the support provided to them by an accredited accelerator program and accredited non-award programs and initiatives, up to the maximum annual student contribution level under the HECS system."

Shorten said his party believes Australia can be the startup, technology and science capital of Asia by "supporting a new generation of innovators here, bringing great expats home and attracting the best minds from around the world".

"It is estimated that we will need another 100,000 IT workers in Australia by 2020," Shorten said. "Labor wants Australians to have the skills and support to create the jobs of the future, not just fill them; the majority of jobs to be created over the next decade and beyond will be in companies that don't exist today."

Additionally, Shorten announced his intention to create two new visa classes -- both capped at 2,000 international entrepreneurs -- to attract the "best global entrepreneurial talent" to help build Australia's growing startup ecosystem.

Labor will also create a new platform for government to engage with startups, based on the US Government's Challenge.gov; and establish an innovation investment partnership which will bring in industry and startup experts it said are aimed at identifying and overcoming process barriers.

"The Australian tech startup sector has the potential to contribute 540,000 new jobs in the next two decades," the fact sheet said.

"The majority of jobs to be created over the next decade and beyond will be in companies that don't exist today -- that is why it is important to put policy in place that helps grow as many of these companies as possible.

"After two years of Liberal Government inaction on innovation, Australia is lagging right at the time when we should be gearing up to compete."

Earlier this week, Shorten extended his 'jobs of the future' commitment, pledging an additional AU$31 million in what he says will boost the quality of teaching and resources in the country's universities.

The Labour Party Leader has now pledged a total investment of AU$2.5 billion to Australian universities in a bid to drive productivity and growth, and deliver its 'jobs of the future' pre-election commitment, prioritising study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at Australian universities, as well as coding in schools.

"75 percent of the fastest growing occupations today require skills in STEM and employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations," Shorten said on Monday. "We want to make sure young Australians have the skills to fill those jobs and drive the new economy through their knowledge, innovation, and creativity."

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

He also flagged his intention to introduce the teaching of coding in every primary and secondary school across the country, wipe the student debt for up to 100,000 young people -- especially females -- who study STEM subjects, add 25,000 STEM teaching scholarships for Australia's future teachers, and to sink AU$500 million into a smart investment fund to back Australian ideas and "help them compete on the world stage".

Also on Thursday, the newly appointed minister for industry, innovation, and science, Christopher Pyne said driving innovation is important for jobs and growth. He said that whilst the Liberal Government wants to encourage ideas for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, they need to be good ideas.

"Innovation has to be more than a political buzzword, it's the only option for our economy if we are to maintain our current standard of living," Pyne said. "While Labor appears to have a sudden new found desire to promote innovation in Australia, a better start would be for them to support the China Free Trade Agreement; the Labor Party should work with the Government to help create the jobs for the future and the China Free Trade Agreement is critical for job creation."

The minister said for the past two years, his party has worked to drive innovation, admitting, however, there is much more to be done, and adding that more would be said in the months ahead.

Speaking about Pyne's appointment to the portfolio on Monday, the newly appointed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it highlights how important the Government believes it is to invest in science, promote STEM education, and support startups.

"If we want to remain a prosperous, first-world economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive. Above all, we must be more innovative," Turnbull said.

"We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We're not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it."