Atlassian, Canva, AfterPay Are Big Players In Tech Council Push
Multibillion dollar Australian firms Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay have joined forces in what’s becoming a powerful tech lobby at the centre of national conversations between government, industry and the Australian public.
The fledgling Tech Council of Australia, formed two years ago to represent the sector’s interests, now has the big Australian firms positioned to flex collective muscle alongside smaller companies and startups.
That was evident last week when the council featured a powerful line up of Australian politicians and industry speakers at its first National Tech Summit, held in Brisbane.
Far from being fledgling, the tech council event attracted Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic, Coalition Shadow Minister Paul Fletcher, Atlassian Co-CEO Scott Farquhar and global chair of Tesla and chair of the Tech Council, Robyn Denholm, who delivered keynote addresses.
Ms Palaszczuk said her government would support training for quantum technologies and investment to attract local jobs as part of a Quantum and Advanced Technologies Strategy.
“If we can develop production facilities for advanced technologies in Queensland, we can commercialise research and IP here instead of seeing it go offshore,” she told the summit.
Mr Farquhar said AI represented a shift as big as disruptive technologies in the past. “There’ll be companies that get started that couldn’t have existed pre AI,” he said. He warned participants that they needed to take care of themselves and take time away so they could offer more positive and productive leadership in the longer term.
Mr Farquhar and Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht sit on the Tech Council board as directors, as does Afterpay co-founder Anthony Elsen.
Executive directors include former NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello, a legend for his trail-blazing agile rollout of digital technology during the pandemic, and Kate Jones, the event host, who during three terms as the Queensland Government’s youngest ever minister, held a string of key portfolios including innovation, education, the environment, climate change, tourism, the Commonwealth Games and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
Mr Dominello said he had been busy with speaking engagements and offering advice since leaving the NSW parliament in March. He is also leading a University of NSW- UTS digital trust research hub centering on security and ethics.
“I agreed to join the Tech Council because of their important role in advocating for tech in this country, and their policy development,” Mr Dominello told ChannelNews. “If I can add my experience as a digital leader in New South Wales to that cause, then that’s good for our nation.”
The high-profile line-up is fueling debate around technology at a time of massive change, with the public perplexed by newer technologies such as quantum computing and more recently generative AI, a game changing yet pervasive technology that is causing, among other things, a global shake-up of defamation and copyright laws.
ChatGPT has vitamised the collective body of human knowledge online and now serves it up as pureed information smoothies.
But it faces a comprehensive investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, along with multiple class actions for copyright breaches by prominent US authors. That could lead to payouts of billions of dollars and perhaps its retraining on non copyrighted data – the FTC has asked ChatGPT developer OpenAI about that option in its long list of questions leaked to the US media last week.
Of the big tech firms, Microsoft obviously is already tuned in to the importance of a national tech lobby as it played a key role in presenting workshops on generative AI to participants.
Speaking with ChannelNews, Tech Council CEO Kate Pounder said the organisation wanted to be “the head, heart and voice of the tech community in Australia”.
It aimed to help the public understand the technology industry, perform research, be an industry voice on key issues, and to assist communities understand how they can be part of tech, and how tech can work for them.
She said the council would perform a different advocacy role to other peak industry bodies such as The Australian Computer Society (ACS).
“The difference is that the ACS represents individuals working in the industry, and it’s a professional training body and it does a lot of standards and accreditation of workers, whereas we’re representing the industry,” she said.
“Within our membership, we have software companies and fintech companies and investors and advisory groups. The organisations that we represent have a lot of coders in them whereas I think the ACS is really for individuals.”
She said technology had become vitally important to Australia in terms of economic performance and social outcomes. Tech was more centre stage and more pervasive in our lives and was forcing a rewrite of regulatory and governance frameworks.
“We think it’s really time that we have a peak body that can be a more mature part of that ecosystem,” Pounder says.
The council launched just two years in August 2021 out of not-for-profit body StartupAUS which promotes technology entrepreneurship. She said StartupAUS wasn’t big enough to represent the likes of Canva and Atlassian. “None of them belonged to an advocacy body and they weren’t being represented on issues,” she said.
“If you’re in government, you don’t want to go and have 100 conversations, you’d prefer to have one conversation organisation that can bring the right 100 voices to the table.”
Pounder’s previous tech experience includes 15 years developing policy with the federal government and other bodies. She then moved into startup analytics and worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
The council’s first national summit took place at three venues: the redeveloped Howard Smith Wharves, at Logan and at The Precinct in Fortitude Valley.
Support from the Queensland Government saw Brisbane chosen as the venue for the inaugural summit. Pounder is keeping the location of next year’s venue “under my hat”, she says.