Labor approves of Policy Hack, but wants the past fixed too

The federal opposition leader Bill Shorten wants the government to rectify its past decisions before it makes more at tomorrow's inaugural government Policy Hack.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government will be hosting the first government Policy Hack tomorrow, which it expects to draw on innovative thinking in the hope of developing new policies, and giving existing ones a modern-day makeover.

Despite his support for a disruptive startup culture in Australia, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wants the government to reconsider its past decisions before it turns to innovation.

"We hope the government goes down the path of innovation and supporting the role of technology, to create a better future for Australia, and more jobs," Shorten said.

One of the first initiatives run by the new Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy, Policy Hack is described as a brainstorming session which, according to the OurSay project page, will see a hackathon methodology adopted, with attendees working in teams to create new government policy ideas it expects will foster growth in innovative industries such as tech startups, biotech, agtech, fintech, renewables, and resources.

Whilst Shorten previously said his party believes Australia can be the startup, technology, and science capital of Asia, he wants to see a different outcome from tomorrow's Policy Hack.

"I do hope as the government is engaging in its own particular processes tomorrow, that they will consider reversing some of their cuts to research bodies," Shorten said.

In August, the digital productivity arm of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and National ICT Australia (NICTA) were combined to form Data61.

Last year, CSIRO announced that it would be axing more than 500 jobs after the government's 2014-15 Budget cut AU$111.4 million in funding to the research organisation; previously, the CSIRO had announced that it would cut 300 full-time jobs after receiving AU$32.3 million in funding in the 2013-14 Budget purely to make redundancies.

NICTA has faced similar issues, with the Coalition in September 2013 cutting AU$42 million in funding in an effort to improve the Budget bottom line by AU$6 billion, and reduce government debt by AU$16 billion.

"I hope that tomorrow they might get the message that just delaying by a year the introduction of the higher education university degrees of AU$100,000 is not in the best interests of the future," Shorten said in Sydney on Friday.

The opposition leader has been focusing on education, and prioritising study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Last month, 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 boosts 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, outlining a plan if he were to become prime minister to turn Australia into the "science, startup, 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 sink AU$500 million into a smart investment fund to back Australian ideas and "help them compete on the world stage".

With a similar approach to that of his leader, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary assisting with digital innovation and startups, Ed Husic said he is happy with the government's current focus.

"We're happy that the government is now focused on this issue, I'm certainly encouraging him [Wyatt Roy] and the others to actually start to support innovation, pulling back on the cuts that they've made, and that we can work together to promote something that is vital to the nation's economic interests," he said.

According to Husic, startups will help to create the jobs the next generation of Australians will be filling.

"There's a lot at stake, we need to make sure that we've got the right skills, the right capital pulling down the regulatory barriers and encouraging more people to go in and create their own businesses because basically the future of the nation depends on their success and we want to be there working with them on it," he said.

"There's a lot that we can do."

Women in tech must become the "norm"

Australia's new female tech entrepreneurs are being held back by a lack of women role models and sexism in the sector.

Three prominent female startup founders said it's concerning how few female school leavers have an interest in business and the tech world.

Speaking to more than 50 female entrepreneurs in Sydney on Friday, Jess Wilson said she's had to convince many people that she is in fact the founder of Stashd, a fashion app that lets users flip through and buy fashion clothing online.

"The response I got from social media was this girl cannot be a tech CEO ... she must be a rich daddy's girl ... she can't have worked her way to get to this point."

Highlighting trailblazing women in the industry is the easiest way to change that stereotype, she said, so "it becomes the norm".

In one of her first public events since her husband became prime minister, Lucy Turnbull also threw her support behind female entrepreneurs and praised the developing startup culture in the country.

"I cannot say how wonderful it is for someone who has lived in Sydney all my life to see this innovation startup ecosystem develop as quickly as it did," Turnbull said.

A highly successful woman in her own right, Turnbull is the chair of cervical cancer developer Prima BioMed, is on board for The Committee of Sydney, and is the deputy chairwoman of ferry operator Sealink Travel Group.

Minister for Employment and Women, Michaelia Cash, and the Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy also said Canberra's doors are "completely and utterly" open to young entrepreneurs.

Gen George, founder of OneShift, a portal that helps businesses connect with people looking for shift or part-time work and vice versa, hopes the government will look at the curriculum and make sure more relevant business studies are taught in school.

"Basic coding should be made a priority at a younger age in school," she said.

Nikki Durkin, founder of fashion app 99dresses, said women need to be encouraged to take an interest in coding and building hardware themselves.

"If you look at all the very sexy tech startups founders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg ... those startups a lot of the time were started in their garage building stuff and girls aren't exposed to that, and that's going to perpetuate the issue."

While coding is in the national curriculum, more needs to be done to encourage teachers to be well versed in the topic to inspire more students, Roy told AAP.

"You don't want someone with no experience in coding, teaching coding," he said.

"It's not just the tech skills but the entrepreneurial spirit, and in both of those veins you need to find who is the best at doing that in the private sector and how can the government enable them to do it."

With AAP

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