Segments of the technology sector are disappointed at a lack of attention paid to their part of the economy in the October budget handed down this week.
While pre-announced measures for digital skills training, NBN fibre upgrades, and programs to improve the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields were broadly welcomed, the “responsible” budget Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivered has failed to capture the imagination of some.
Despite wanting to see more from the government when it comes to tech, Australian Computer Society (ACS) CEO Chris Vein found a silver lining in the budget’s support for childcare and parental leave, saying it would help more people to enter the technology workforce.
“While we would have liked to have seen more tech-focused measures announced, we have long been advocates of boosting the technology sector’s diversity and enabling parents to enter or get back into the workforce as an important step in allowing this,” he said.
Tech Council of Australia CEO Kate Pounder said that, while the $5.8 million to refine and support women in STEM programs was welcome, she was disappointed to see it come at the cost of the $3.8 million Supporting Women’s Mid-Career Transition into the Tech Workforce program.
“We simply don’t agree that it is wasteful to support women to reskill into high-skilled, high-paid jobs,” Pounder said.
“Women comprise only a quarter of the tech workforce, despite these roles being amongst the fastest-growing, most flexible and secure jobs in the country, with half the gender pay gap of other high-paying industries.
“So, we are disappointed to see funding cut to a program which had the potential to help improve these numbers.”
Even some new measures the government added to its budget didn’t seem adequate for some, such as the $12.6 million over four years package for fighting scams and online fraud, which Ajay Unni, CEO of security company Stickman Cyber, called “a joke”.
“This won’t go far, which is a missed opportunity because consumer education is an area that must be further addressed, as most cyberattacks and breaches are the result of human error,” Unni said.
“Appropriate funding for digital safety and education is needed to ensure everyone who uses a device has a basic understanding of cyber-hygiene principles.”
Do more, please
Likewise Jarrod McGrath, CEO of consultancy Smart WFM, welcomed the $47 million for helping build the country’s future science and technology talent – along with the 480,000 fee-free TAFE places – but is concerned not enough is being done to upskill the rest of the country.
“We need to recognise that technology touches all roles now and build a ‘digital muscle’ in people, organisations, and government so that operational workers – including in manufacturing and aged care – are ready for the often-unpredictable changes faster digitisation will bring,” he said.
For the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) – which wants to see local game development become a $1 billion industry – there was concern that no apparent progress has been made on the Digital Games Tax Offset, a 30 per cent tax offset for businesses who spend over $500,000 on game development.
“The budget announcement unfortunately did not mention games, which is a missed opportunity for Australia and our digital economy,” the IGEA said, adding that the industry was “eagerly awaiting the legislation”.
Statements from other companies like Google, which had Industry Minister Ed Husic launch its Career Certificate in person earlier this month, were less critical, with Lucinda Longcroft, Director of Public Policy for Google Australia and New Zealand, saying the tech giant was “pleased to see the Australian Government investing in key priorities such as online safety”.
This week the government honoured its pre-election commitment to provide $6 million over three years to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for the national rollout of its eSmart Digital Licence.
“Google is a long-term supporter of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and we are thrilled the government has recognised the value of programs like the eSmart Digital Licence, and we will make it available to all young Australians across the country,” Longcroft said.