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Gillard urged to help create 'Silicon Beach' for Australian tech businesses

Monday, 8 October 2012 | By Oliver Milman

Government regulations need to change if Australia is to create a 'Silicon Beach' that will compete with the world's leading digital economies, a gathering of tech giants and start-ups has told Prime Minister Julia Gillard.


A forum on Australia's digital economy, held in Sydney, saw a range of ideas presented directly to Gillard on how to boost the nation's tech innovation.


Nick Leeder, managing director of Google Australia, praised the roll out of the National Broadband Network, but said that changes to copyright, financial regulations on capital raising and the number of school leavers taking up ICT courses were needed if Australia was to create its own 'Silicon Beach' to rival California's Silicon Valley.


"We think we should be setting out to build this Silicon Beach, and use the examples and capabilities that [it] will provide to accelerate the uptake and absorption of digital, right through the main parts of the economy," said Leeder, in comments reported by The Australian and ZDNet.


"We think that many of the critical ingredients of this (silicon) beach are already here. We see that from a Google perspective. Sydney is one of Google's top R&D centres in the world and that's because we can find world class engineering talent here."


According to The Australian, Leeder also urged Australia to "amplify" the success stories of tech entrepreneurs.


"We should be placing more value on the risk that they're taking and celebrating their success more," he said.


The forum featured digital heavyweights such as Microsoft, PayPal, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, but also included start-up pioneers Atlassian and Shoes of Prey.


Michael Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey, said he was concerned about the lack of engineering talent in Australia, a problem exacerbated by the launch of the NBN, while Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar said that Australia should worry less about its geographical location and more about the particular areas we want to specialise in.


Gillard herself called for greater collaboration between businesses and government to ensure that Australia wasn't left behind in the global tech rush.


"Through better exploitation of the digital economy we can increase the output of both our capital and our labour, and make Australia more competitive," she told the forum.


"If we don't collaborate to get to the front of the digital pack, we'll see our competitiveness decline, jobs move elsewhere, and our overall prosperity reduced."


"Today is ... an opportunity for participants in the forum to share their experience, for business to learn from business."