Now is the time to rebuild Australia as a digital leader

- June 18, 2020 3 MIN READ

Global instability has given Australia an opportunity, and plenty of reason, to emerge from recession as a leader in digital, a Melbourne-based demographer says.   

With COVID-19 causing chaos in the US and Europe, distrust increasing towards China and nativist tensions brewing globally, Simon Kuestenmacher, director of research at Bernard Salt’s consultancy The Demographics Group says Australia has a ripe opportunity to attract the best and brightest in digital while securing supply chain sovereignty at home.

Seizing the chance to strengthen digital innovation in Australia could fuel its recovery from recession and bolster a diversity of industries in decades to come, he said.

“Always in business you should be looking 10, 20, 100 years ahead where the world is going. Jobs in the future will be knowledge heavy with almost all industries shifting to have a digital component. So you might be thinking how can we help assist digital companies and innovation in Australia,” Kuestenmacher said.

“Australia’s biggest drawing card internationally is its liveable cities – and digital jobs are footloose jobs,” Kuestenmacher said.

“If these individual workers can choose where they want to live then how well Australia is dealing with COVID-19 is something that runs a small argument in favor of us as a destination and an argument against the US, for example. For the globally flexible worker that’s one of the biggest things we have to position ourselves for the top end of migrants.

“There’s no reason why Google needs to sit in the Silicon Valley except for the reason that all the other firms sit there and that’s where the talent is. And Silicon Valley is not able to serve the whole world.”

Kuestenmacher said COVID-19 had highlighted the importance of supply chain sovereignty as well as the relative strength of Australia’s digital infrastructure, giving Australia all the more reason to foster digital innovation at home.

“Australia produces enough food for itself but at the digital end of the spectrum we all rely on lots of digital things like Facebook, Gmail, Google. In that space we heavily rely on Americans. We’re welcoming Google here and Amazon but they’re not paying tax. That’s a global challenge going forward.

“This situation illustrates that it’s absolutely crucial that you harvest talent here, that there is free training and networking opportunities and that we’re working closely with universities to ensure that young talent is coming up with relevant skills. There’s questions like what kind of tax benefits do we give to young companies and if you lack connections to talk to finance folks and set up a company, how can we simplify this?

“We’re probably not talking about setting up Facebooks or Googles but even if you’re opening a digital service that employs three or four people, that’s three or four more jobs that are in Australia.”

Sagar Sethi migrated to Australia to establish his own search engine optimisation agency, Xugar, which now employs a dozen Australians.

Sethi suggested the Australian government needs to invest more in digital education for citizens.

In releasing the Australian results of the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking in 2019, the Committee for Economic Development in Australia found the nation ranked 44 on digital/technological skills and employee training, and 53 on graduates in sciences.

“America is number one in digital technology competitiveness because they know it’s the future of employment,” said Sethi.

“I chose to migrate and establish my dream business in Australia because I value the liveability here, the strong social policies and multicultural ideals. However, I think Australia could make a stronger case for digital workers and companies to establish themselves here, especially now with the chaos enveloping the US and Britain and the distrust of China.

‘We have the chance to attract and foster digital talent here, or the business goes elsewhere.’

CEDA’s chief economist Joe Ball recently stated Australia would need to achieve technological innovation across all industries in order to emerge from its current recession in a strong position globally.

“A narrow conversation about what products Australia makes onshore is a dead-end, denying the tech driven reality of intense global competition,” he said.

“However, Australia also cannot have a conversation that sees technology and innovation as abstract concepts that can be dialled up through a policy statement. Instead, they must permeate every aspect of our economy – redefining the boundaries of traditional industry classifications and how we create value.”

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