Newly appointed industry minister Ed Husic wants to entice expat technology professionals back home, but he’s still working out how exactly to encourage their return.

One of the first things he did when appointed to the position of Minister for Industry and Science was “send the signal” to Australian tech workers living around the world that they would be welcomed home with open arms.

“What I’ve asked my department to do is start thinking about how we can smooth the runway for those Australians who are interested in returning,” he told Information Age.

“There’s a lot of work for great Australian minds to do.

“Sure, we’ve already got people here who can do that, but we need to supplement it with the skills – and importantly the experience – of Australians overseas.”

Relatively low Australian salaries have already been linked to overseas companies poaching workers from Sydney and Melbourne and data from big US tech companies does show a large potential windfall for local tech workers willing to move internationally.

But Husic is confident expats will see other value in returning to Australia at a time of political unrest in the US and geopolitical tension in Europe.

“There’ll be a lot of Australians that are overseas that have gone there initially and have since started to think about family life, about quality of life, who are attracted to coming home,” he said.

“There’ll be some that might be able to get competitive remuneration options as well because their talent and their skills are in high demand.”

Husic estimated there are around 20,000 Australians living on the West Coast of the US alone, and that there are large communities of Australians living in places like Berlin and London.

“We’re not intending to get every single Australian who’s working overseas to come home, but we want to let them know we’ve got a clear national purpose,” he said.

“We’ve got things we need to get done and they’ve got the skills and experience they’ve developed overseas that we need back here in Australia.”

More quantum, please

Labor went into the last election promising to centre its industrial policy around a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.

One area Husic wants to target is quantum computing – a field in which Australia has historically been world leading but some experts have expressed concern that a lack of government support has allowed other countries to catch up.

He spoke at last week’s announcement that Michelle Simmons’s company Silicon Quantum Computing had made a world-first quantum integrated circuit.

Husic told Information Age he’d been doing the rounds with Australia’s major quantum players like the team at Quantum Brilliance, who recently added a room temperature quantum processor to a Pawsey supercomputer, and David Reilly from Microsoft/University of Sydney.

“People should be under no illusion – government’s ambitions on quantum are concrete and real,” he said.

“I’ve sent the strongest possible signal that we are not only going to hold onto the edge that we’ve got at the moment, but we are going to keep sharpening it.

“We are going to make Australia the quantum capital of the globe.”

One mechanism for that support is the government’s $1 billion critical technologies fund which will offer loans and co-investments for businesses developing AI, robotics, and quantum computing.

Spreading out $1 billion across a trio of emerging technologies is a far cry from the dedicated $3 to 4 billion quantum technology stimulus called for by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in May last year.

In 2018, the US dedicated US$1.1 billion over four years for a national quantum initiative and in 2020 India set aside a similar amount over five years for local quantum research.