Australia’s IT industry just isn’t sexy enough



blog Those of you who’ve been following Delimiter over the past several days might have noticed that I’ve gotten a little bit on my high horse over the issue of industry subsidies. I was a little shocked by the massive national ruckus created by the request by fruit processor SPC Ardmona for millions of dollars worth of government assistance for its plant in Shepparton, Victoria, when larger issues in the nation’s technology sector are almost completely ignored. Today I’ve published a further view on the issue on the ABC’s The Drum site, arguing that it’s because the IT industry just isn’t sexy enough. A sample paragraph:

“If you’re a struggling company seeking financial aid from the Federal Government, you had better be making or growing some kind of visible, touchable product: something that will look good on TV as a backdrop to a political announcement … If you don’t have this kind of product, then not only will your proposal not be seriously considered by the politicians in your sector – because there’s no photo opportunity – but worse, it won’t even be covered by the mainstream media.”

The article has generated a huge stream of comments. Quite a few people agree with me, quite a few people disagree with me, and quite a few people mostly appear interested in pushing an unrelated barrow. But then that’s the Internet. We rarely seem to agree on anything, but the debate is generally interesting anyway ;) I encourage you to join the general ruckus and represent the views of Australian technologists.

Image credit: Still from Gladiator


  1. Your previous article suggests the future of Australia’s industry isnt canned fruit.

    What exactly is it then? Its certainly not the only industry, but Australia should frankly undertake any and all industry possible – not pursue some fanciful idea that the future should be heavily biased towards “knowledge-based smart businesses”.

    Just think about that for a bit. We need to make things, at least for our own consumption, and preferably some for export. Having a broad industrial base, and being self-reliant for food – amongst other things – help us ride out things like the GFC and exchange rate fluctuations.

    Its just good public policy.

    “knowledge-based smart businesses” is one of those buzz phases that sounds great but when put under the microscope fails the society and the public completely. Like NBN and the grasping-at-straws killer-app “e-medicine”.

    We *require* things like vital rural communities to supply the urban areas with food. By not supporting those communities, we run the real risk of spiraling food prices. Many other industries support society, and the economy in the same way.

    As for the political aspect of this – I’m pretty sure most agree that the last few parliaments have failed us too, because the focus on purely the next 15 second soundbite.

    p.s. I am, purely, a “knowledge-based smart worker”

  2. Sooner or later, an Australian government is going to have to realise that we can’t just keep digging holes and selling the contents to survive in the world, we really need our industries to branch out a bit and IT, renewables and research (thanks to CSIRO and strong Unis) should be at the forefront.

    But then Abbott has/is killing pretty every single alternative at the moment, planning on screwing RET/Solar/Wind, butchering the NBN, bringing in massive cuts at the CSIRO and looking at cutting Uni funding.

    To put it plainly, I have this horrible sinking feeling we’ll be rooted in the future…and not a future centuries away either…

  3. Great article Renai.

    Unfortunately, comments are closed there…is it just me, or do a lot of the ‘conservatives’ there sound dumb as dog shit? I know a few conservatives IRL, and they are a hell of a lot brighter than the ones that post on the Drum/ABC…

  4. Liberals are making sure we don’t have a future, we will have no industry of any sort by the time this idiot is voted out. I just hope people don’t take as long as they did with Howard.

    For the record, I don’t necessarily believe in industry assistance as it has been used, but if it is the only way to keep jobs when the economy is down you do what is important, keep jobs. Reduce assistance when the economy has recovered. I would change the assistance program such that the government is buying shares in the company, so after so many years the government would potentially have a significant share in a company that they could at least sell and recoupe some costs, or use it shares to keep a company running in Australia.

    Please can someone start a party that is full of an industry wide selection of smart people. Get rid of our lawyer/accountant base in politics, it is killing our country… Look at how companies are run around the world, the ones that do well generally have someone at the helm that understands the business they are in, and are not run by lawyer/accountants. Liberals keep say run government like a business, yet we only get second rate leaders so how can we run our government well?

    You get what you vote for, but when there is so little choice, you may as well vote for minor parties or informally as a protest. It honestly couldn’t be worse than what we have now. I actually thought the minority government did better than any of the recent governments we have had. To me policy is king when I vote and Abbott doesn’t have any policies worth voting for… Is giving to the rich a policy or just what they do?

    Labour is tied to the unions otherwise they would be more attractive to non-unions based voters. Yet they generally do things that benefit the lower paid. Liberals like to cut jobs, reduce wages for the low paid and give to the rich. Yet the poor still voted for Abbott??? Goes to show that the poor are also poorly educated.

  5. The problem here is not that a business is going out backwards, it’s that there’s less opportunity for the ex-employees. When *insert large IT firm* dumps a bunch of workers, the impact on them (in terms of length of unemployment) is likely to be less than that of a displaced auto or cannery worker.

    For that reason, there’s little outcry because, frankly, an IT worker (or anyone with a skill set that can be redeployed easily) isn’t going to be in as much trouble. That’s definitely the barrow that’s being pushed by people like Dr Sharman Stone: there’s a significant long term (or even permanent) impact to the livelihood of affected people.

    IT isn’t sexy enough in this argument because there’s high demand for the skills, and that’s a good thing. That isn’t to say a good industry policy that supports innovation isn’t required.

  6. Hi Renai, good article and well done challenging this aspect of Australia.

    Mainstream Australia just doesn’t get “new” industries the way many other countries do. The phenomena you have discussed is reflective of what mainstream Australia does get, and that is those things that we can touch and feel.

    I agree it is about photo opps and good politics. But that type of political imagery is about appealing to a culture that is already there. The question is, which politicians will be brave enough to step beyond the stereotypes and show mainstream Australia how Australia can be leaders of our communities and industries in other ways.

    For many decades, I have heard smarter commentators than I, comment on the poor valuations companies have here compared to overseas for those companies that are building and exploiting intellectual property. It has also been said that our analyst, investor and financial ecosystems to support, properly value and leverage such companies has been very poor for many decades in comparison with overseas peers. Also, variations in tax laws between countries that value and attract Intellectual Property versus Australia’s approach to such things is supposedly reflective of this difference.

    These observations, along with industry assistance, reflect the way Australia thinks of such things.

    I don’t believe for a minute that there is any substantial difference in deployment/redeployment/reskilling challenges between lets say an ageing machinist coming out of manufacturing, and an ageing Cobol programmer coming out of IT. Many of us have seen the latter, and similar skills, struggle to secure employment, even after reskilling, and in many cases change careers very late in life simply to secure employment. This concept that if one has “technology” skills then one is automatically re-employable at a moments notice is a fallacy and has been a fallacy in large part since Y2K. This is just another manifestation of the same issue.

    It all stems back to our culture. That is that the real workers in this country are the ones who pick up tools and work physically with their hands. And it is on their back that this country is built. Our whole psyche and capabilities is built around this assumption.

    There is no doubt that it is on their back that this country was built. The question is how far will that thinking continue to take us in the future?

Comments are closed.