Tech Council of Australia report launch

Australian Parliament House

Good morning, everyone. I just want to first acknowledge that we're on Ngunnawal land and pay my respects to elders past and present and emerging. 

It is tremendous to be here and to see this on either side [of the room], so many of you that are gathered here today. If I may say, Louise was being very kind in saying I was a strong advocate. I'm a very stubborn advocate for you all — it means a great deal to me personally. I mean, obviously being a Minister, getting a chance, because there are a lot of periods of time we didn't know if this opportunity would present itself to be in Government, then be a Minister, and being a Minister in a space where I get to work with yourselves, because I have for the entirety of my time as a member of Parliament, and this comes to the stubborn bit, been focused on your sector and championing your cause, visiting you all over the place in different parts of the country. 

I've always made myself available and not just for big companies, as much as I'm a huge admirer of what they do and the investment they bring, but also what I’ve loved seeing is the new firms that are starting out, having a crack and believing in themselves and have found something that they want to build into something big and being able to have that opportunity to see that and to walk away inspired by that, and just that courage and tenacity has meant a great deal. It's fantastic to be able to be around people like that. 

And so, to then be able to be with you all today, thank you for what you all do, and your faith in terms of what you're doing within your own workforce and how you're contributing to the broader community, brought together here by a total dynamo, I know a lot of people made this today, and I want to be careful about singling people out, but you've got to give it up to Kate Pounder and the team at the Tech Council. 

And what you're all doing is exceptionally important and I want to be able to come back to that. And in particular, what the Tech Council has done in working with Louise's team and the DSO [Digital Skills Organisation] is very important. I mentioned that I've been sort of following this path for 10 years. The big thing that has been the constant, has been this constancy of trying to find people, the skill shortages that have existed when you know that you can grow and do a lot of things, but you need people to make things happen. In actual fact, we need to convince the broader community that what you do is not just mechanistic, it requires people, it requires a human touch. And so being able to have people in this role has been a constant problem. 

But there's one person I met here today that showed how far this issue has moved. So, if the constant has been you have had difficulties finding people, there was someone that I met this morning — sorry, Guy, I'm going to embarrass you in front of all these people. Guy, who's here. Guy came into your industry; he had been a chef. And then, obviously, as we've all experienced the challenge of [COVID-19] lockdown, it was — you know, I don't think this is the world's biggest secret — it was very hard to run a restaurant or be involved in hospitality when you're going through lockdowns, and he made the big move to train up and took online courses and can you imagine, I lot of you would appreciate, going through that, but as a complete, new experience. He went through it all, trained up. You're now employed meaningfully within the sector, but the big difference is this, if you don't mind me saying this — you can tell me off later. 

SPEAKER: Go ahead. 

Okay. Guy's 40. I'm 52. How's that about balancing the ledger? Guy is 43 now. The big change has been how far the sector has moved, because 10 years ago once you hit 40 you were disposed of in the sector. Age discrimination, very trenchant, very difficult. You've seen the tech sector do what it does best: problem solve. We need people. How do we make this happen? How do we open up training pathways and through that process not only ensure that we in part get people in to deal with those skills shortages, but also open up meaningful long-term work? This is the big thing. This is what the report has highlighted in so many ways. A big employer that needs to be bigger. 

We committed early on. We were the first major political party to commit to the Tech Council's 1.2 million jobs by 2030. [There are] 861,000 [jobs] now, we need to grow it by another 360,000. Then my team said, "Oh, yeah, by the way, we actually have to grow it by 600,000". I was like, "hang on a second, we said 360". Well, there’s a bit of attrition that goes on. Anyhow, so it's a bigger goal, but you all know the goal changes, the target changes; you've just got to accommodate it, work with it. We will absolutely work to meet that. 

This type of report that's being launched today and particularly the sort of solutions [recommended]: changing our understanding of what the tech sector jobs look like; fixing gaps in education and training pathways; improving the diversity of the tech workforce, which is really important not just in terms of workforce, but broadly – we just can't have tech being ticked off in terms of financing sense, through the implementation sense, by one group of people. It makes better longer-term sense for us to have a wide range of views in the design and the building and the application of what you do in the community. [Other recommended solutions include]: targeting skilled migration areas of high need, which is something I've definitely been arguing with my colleagues; and continuing to improve industry-level analysis of workforce data. 

Now, Kate's going to go through some of the numbers and figures in a bit more detail, but the big thing for us is we want to be able to draw on this for an event that's coming up. The Prime Minister has announced a Jobs and Skills Summit that'll be held in the next few weeks, and this is part of our — we committed to this as an opposition. We recognise that skills shortage is a big issue, but we also need to be prepared as a people with the skills we have for the way that the economy and the community is changing longer term. 

From my point of view, the other thing that we need to do is feed in views early on. It's not a one, two-day thing and that's it. So, what we've committed to and what I'm pleased to announce for you today, we'll be holding a tech roundtable ahead of the summit to better inform the summit and I'll be bringing in peak bodies like the Tech Council of Australia, plus others, plus other firms to start that work. 

And, so, it's going to be before, through this roundtable that I bring together, the Jobs and Skills Summit and the next thing is afterwards because I tell you what, from the time that I've been involved in this role, been in this as a parliamentarian, I'm absolutely determined: you can judge me on this, and I'm setting myself a very high bar, but we have got to beat this issue. We've got to beat the shortages in there and if we do, too, and the more we grow jobs in the sector, this is really important for the operation of the economy. But the other thing that you bring to problem-solving and its application to the community. 

Making a buck is one thing; making a difference is another. We need to be able to join these things together and so we do need to make sure we do that. 

There's one more thing that I was hoping we could all work together on actually and one of the great things that I admire about the Tech Council since it's been formed, is that you've brought people together and you're out there making the case that tech is really important to the economy and the community — very, very important — and the Tech Council of Australia and the entire team behind it has been doing that. The other thing that we need to do is we need to make the impression on parliamentarians, [for] some of [whom] their good day in tech is being able to work out the remote control — let's face it. But we do need you, we all need to combine. 

I think we've got a big crowdsourcing project that we can do and to be a force multiplied by what the Tech Council is doing, and it's this thing: if every single person, every single firm that's represented here, if you haven't spoken to your local member of Parliament when you leave this place, this great warm weather that we've provided you today, when you leave this place, make sure you contact your local member of Parliament and tell them what you're doing and tell them the contribution you're making economically in community terms and tell them how much better it would be if you had more support, particularly in dealing with some of these issues. And talk about the contribution of the tech sector and the fact that there are more software engineers and developers than there are hairdressers, solicitors — 

SPEAKER: Plumbers. 

Plumbers. More out there. And we need to have you all doing it. And my commitment to you is if they don't talk to you, let me know and I'll talk to them for you and make the introduction, because you all need to make that impression. There are a lot — in this building, there are a lot of sectors that come in and make their case, and you'll find that they get a lot of outcomes because they have been organised. Organising is everything and you need to make that case, so please talk to your local member of Parliament, and emphasise that the tech community and the sector is making a huge contribution to the economy. It could be so much better if we're all working as a team. 

Finally, thank you all for what you do. I very much value what you do and look forward to working with you. I don't know where Kate Jones is — I don't like singling people out. Wherever you're at, I want to be able to catch up with you and say g'day because we haven't spoken for a while. She's been a tremendous advocate on the board. Thank you again and I wish you all the best and well done on the report.