Sep 062016

In the second of our series on the tech policies of the Lord Mayoral candidates for the upcoming City of Sydney elections, we look at the policies of the Sydney Matters team, the independent business focused group.

Sydney Matters is led by Angela Vithoulkas, who’s operated a central Sydney coffee shop with her brother for 25 years. Angela, who is a friend of this writer, ran as a Lord Mayoral candidate in 2012 and won election as a councillor.

Angela’s team includes the founder and editor of Startup Daily, Mat Beeche, as well as Edward Mandla who was elected to council as a Liberal candidate but defected from the party earlier this year.

The Sydney Matters platform is the only one that has a specific tech policy which reflects both Angela’s and Mat’s backgrounds and interests in technology and how it affects the business sector.

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech startups?

As Lord Mayor I will work with Tech Sydney, Startup Aus, FinTech Australia and other key players. I would like to explore concepts like having a Chief Entrepreneur in Residence program at Town Hall – similar to what Advance Queensland recently announced.

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

“The People, in 2011 the startup scene we have in Sydney didn’t exist in the same way it does today – and it exists today because passionate people said I am going to change things.”

What are we not doing well at the moment?

“We are fragmented, we need closer connections – physical hubs where tech startups can collaborate, meet serendipitously, make it easier for them to do business with each other – proximity can be helped by the city looking at smarter real estate opportunities for the tech sector.”

What is Sydney doing well? 

The City of Sydney’s Tech StartUps action plan is a step in the right direction but we need to build on this and work in collaboration with other levels of Government to drive our tech startup industry forward.”

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts? 

“To make inroads we all need to be on the same page and collaborating for the interest of the sector.”

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses. Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

“When I sat down with Mat Beeche who is on my ticket and asked that very same question, I was surprised by his answer – The stats show that NSW is actually performing a lot better than the media would have you believe.

“Sydney has attracted some huge tech companies to Sydney including data and analytics startup Qualtrics, valued at $1 billion that chose Sydney for its APAC operations.

“Fintech startup Acorns is in Sydney, HealthTech startup ClassPass is in Sydney, Dropbox chose Sydney, Market Research startup SurveyMonkey chose Sydney and most recently Social Media Snapchat chose Sydney to set up their sales operations office for the region.

“Our problem is that we perhaps are not being as vocal about the achievements of the NSW government who put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to have these organisations choose our city as their destination of choice for expansion.

“What the City of Sydney needs to do is work closer with Macquarie street from a PR and Media perspective to change this perception.”

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

“By being more proactive and being an exemplar – Wellington does a great job of that.”

How does your tech industry policy fit in with other key Sydney employment sectors like the creative industries, financial services and education?

“Tech Startups sit across all industries including creative industries, financial services and education – so our policy is about them as well.”

Of the four candidates we interviewed, the Sydney Matters team probably has the most comprehensive tech strategy. It’s notable how they’ve paid attention to what other Australian cities – particularly Brisbane – have been cultivating their startup and tech communities.

Councillor Vithoulkas’ point about Sydney not marketing itself well is a fair point and that probably reflects more on the cultural differences between the harbour city and its interstate counterparts where Sydneysiders are far less likely to be cheerleaders for their cities than their Melbourne or Brisbane counterparts.

In many ways their strategy is not greatly different from existing council policy which in some ways is probably good for continuity for the business community.

Sep 052016

A few weeks back I wrote about how the tech sector had become an issue in the Sydney Lord Mayoral election to be held on September 10.

Following that post, I approached the four major candidates to get their policies on how Sydney can do better in attracting tech startups to the city. The idea was to get an overview published in one the major newspapers but sadly my pitches were ignored.

However the issues raised are important to Sydney so over of the next few days I’ll publish each of the candidates’ responses to my questions along with any other conversations I’ve had with their teams.

The first candidate we look at is Linda Scott, the Australian Labor Party candidate. Councillor Scott was elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2012 and is a researcher at The University of Sydney and lives in the inner city suburb of Newtown with her husband and two young children.

“As a Labor Councillor, I moved that the City conduct a feasibility study into the possibilities for implementation of smart technologies for City infrastructure and services. The current Lord Mayor and her team voted against it, defeating the measure.

I’ve also held a start up Roundtable for City of Sydney start ups with Labor Ministers Chris Bowen and Ed Husic to hear ideas for how every level of government can improve our support for the start up communities.”

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech  startups?

“As a Labor candidate for Lord Mayor, my Labor  team and I are committed to  delivering smart technology to the City’s infrastructure and services for the future.

“From more efficient watering of our parks to parking to better planned traffic flows, the Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionise our City – and it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

“We are committed to working with our start ups and universities to support  the continuation and creation of Tech  Startup  precincts, and will ensure planning policies foster these precincts.

“Labor will also deliver a dedicated, City-owned work space to form part of a Tech  Startup  precinct and open up City spaces for tech startup networking events and will host an annual festival to promote Sydney as an international tech  startup  hub.

“If elected, we will explore establishing dedicated innovation and commercialisation ‘landing pads’  with our sister cities, and neighbouring and regional councils here in New South Wales.

“Labor  will also work to support the continuation and expansion of existing university-based hubs and accelerators in  the City of Sydney along with hosting an annual festival to promote coding among young people. “

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

“Our people. Sydney is a great global city, and rightly is the first port of call for international trade and investment. Many of our nation’s and the world’s major firms have their Australian headquarters based in Sydney.

“We  have the critical mass  of creativity,  capital  and access to services  to provide fertile ground for tech startups.”

What is Sydney not doing well at the moment?

“The Lord Mayor has rejected Labor’s moves to embrace smart technology.  It’s time for change at the City of Sydney.

“We also need more affordable space for start ups, and Labor is committed to delivering this.

What are we doing well?

“Sydney has great  hubs and accelerators that  Labor  will continue and expand where possible.”

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts?

“As a Labor Councillor, I already work closely with my state and federal colleagues and governments to ensure I secure what’s best for the City of Sydney. The state and federal governments have the financial strength and capabilities to assist the City in delivering its tech  startup strategies.

“For example, a federal Labor  Government committed to create a 500 million dollar Smart Investment Fund and a nine million National Coding in Schools program – both measures I will continue to secure for the future.”

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses.  Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

“Sydney’s strength and appeal as a tech  startup  hub should be the size and diversity of creativity, capital and access services it can achieve.

“With all the measures listed above, and working with stakeholders, Labor is committed to doing better for the future of our start ups.”

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

“Our City needs to continuously increase its exposure to new challenges and new ideas from around the world as well as at home.

“Exploring opportunities for establishing innovation and commercialisation landing pads with sister cities around the world as well as neighbouring and regional councils  will be an important first step in that effort.

“Most importantly, increasing the availability of affordable work space in the City of Sydney will also be critical, and attracting angel investors to Labor’s annual showcase event in the City.

How does your tech industry policy fit in with other key Sydney employment sectors like the creative industries, financial services and education?

“Labor is committed to the creation of a fun, fair, affordable and sustainable City for the future for all businesses and residents. “

It’s hard to see the Labor Party getting a great deal of traction in the council elections, Scott herself only received ten percent of the mayoral vote when she ran for the 2012 election and was the only ALP councillor elected.

The benefit though of the Labor ticket is that Scott’s positions fit nicely with her party’s state and Federal. However, given the party will remain in opposition at both levels for at least two and a half years – although nothing is certain in the farce that Australian Federal Politics has become, that co-ordination means little for the City of Sydney.

Aug 152016

It started so well but has ended in a whimper. I’ve just filed a story for Diginomica on how Australian’s Innovation Agenda died, strangled by the nation’s complacency.

While writing it, I found the moment Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s credibility evaporated. At a media stunt in suburban Sydney, Turnbull and his treasurer Scott Morrison visited the Mignacca family who own two speculative properties and had just bought another for their one year old daughter.

That stunt illustrated everything that is wrong about modern Australia’s investment and taxation policies. The Mignacca’s could be improving their skills and education, they could be setting up a business to provide the jobs and growth that was the cornerstone of Turnbull’s re-election campaign or they could be developing innovative new products for their industries.

Instead they are speculating on property – and borrowing heavily to do it.

The Mignacca’s are doing nothing wrong and are responding rationally to the incentives in Australia’s tax system as well as doing exactly what their peer and parents did, speculating on property to secure their retirement.

Not that this strategy is without risk, like 85% of the Australian workforce both of the Mignacca’s jobs are in domestically facing service industries and in the face of an economic downturn the young couple could find their properties falling in price at the very time they can’t afford to keep them.

In ditching the Innovation Statement and adopting the comfortable rhetoric of his predecessors, Turnbull betrayed the Mignaccas, Australia’s economy and his own stated view about the nation’s property addiction.

Moreover, he killed any credibility he had in being able to recast Australia’s economic future.

One suspects history won’t be kind on Malcolm Turnbull and the day he travelled to the Mignacca’s home will go down as the moment he lost the future.

Jun 272016
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

Brexit, the rise of Trump and the unrelenting negativity of the Australian election campaign underscore the consequences of playing a negative game in politics.

For thirty years, the pattern in western democracies has been to belittle your opponent and demonise relatively powerless minorities such as welfare recipients, immigrants and refugees.

The rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit are symptoms of large segments of society losing confidence in their political leaders, something that isn’t surprising after thirty years of constant negativity from the political classes.

Exacerbating that distrust of the political establishment is the working and lower middle classes wore the brunt of the economic changes of the 1980s and 90s with their work prospects never really recovering. A reality that has not been acknowledged by political leaders.

As we enter another period of dramatic technological change that’s going to have massive effects on the workforce, we’re going to need better leaders.

Jun 232016

It seems the Arab Spring has come to the US Congress where Democrat representatives protesting the house’s refusal to vote on gun control legislation have occupied the house.

House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, ordered the chamber’s TV cameras to be shut off but the occupying members responded by streaming their own media feeds through Facebook and Periscope.

Once again we’re seeing how new media channels are opening up with the internet. While they aren’t perfect, they do challenge the existing power structures and allow the old rules to be subverted.

May 082016
The Western World’s demographic chickens come home to roost. Investor John Mauldin shows nine charts that illustrate the low growth dilemma facing central banks.
For governments to stimulate economies, they are going to have to find a way to increase productivity and the spending power of populations. The current remedy of pumping cheap money into the economy isn’t enough to do this.
One concerning message for the tech sector in these figures is that simply boosting productivity will not be enough to boost the economy. In fact widespread automation of existing jobs may make the problem exponentially worse.
The statistic that indicates younger workers are dropping out of the workforce to look after older relatives should be particularly worrying for economists and a warning to politicians that thirty years of the neo-Liberal model espousing smaller governments and reduced public services now threatens to change the political dynamic – something that the rise of Donald Trump is also a symptom of.
For policymakers, the question is how to employ people in jobs that give them enough income to support their families without ringing up huge debts.
Interestingly, much of the current tech mania is based upon the same credit based consumerism that’s driven the last thirty years of western economic growth. Apps like Uber, AirBnB and the countless delivery apps are good examples of businesses based on happy consumers jamming more on their credit cards.
The era of 1980s thinking is over, we’re going to have to rethink what policies encourage employment and wealth creation along with seriously considering what capitalism is going to look like in the mid-21st Century.
Apr 302016
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

One of the key features of modern western nations is how stable politics is with very few major parties being less than fifty years old and many boasting a history lasting back a century or more.

Now in the US and Australia we’re seeing the slow motion implosion of the established parties of the reactionary side of politics – it would be misleading to describe the schoolboy ideologies of most American Republicans or Australian Liberals as being ‘right wing’.

Tony Wright in the London School of Economics blog asks What Comes After the Political Party?

Wright’s view is political parties are doomed to extinction as their memberships dwindle and this is an opinion shared by many watching the declining participation in formal politics over the last fifty years.

One result of that declining participation has been the steady increase in power of the machine apparatchiks who’ve increasingly replaced boots on the ground with corporate funding.

The consequence of that increase in power has been a steady disconnect between the concerns of the electorate and the priorities of the party leadership.

In the US that disconnect resulted in the Republicans blindsided by the rise of Donald Trump and the Australian Liberal Prime Minister increasingly looking like Grandpa Simpson as his party shuffles towards what increasingly looks to be a ballot box disaster.

Both parties are likely to rip themselves apart as the contradictions of the modern reactionary movement – dismantling public services while increasing government powers – come home to roost with the ideologues and pragmatists within the organisation fighting bitterly.

The truth is political parties are no more permanent than businesses, or indeed nations, and in a time of economic change it isn’t surprising old parties die and new ones are formed.

While political parties won’t cease to exist, the new political parties that will rise from the wreckage of today’s will be different in both their philosophies, organisation and membership.

Parties that were formed in the horse and carriage days or the early era of newspapers and radios are always going to find the internet era to be a challenge, that they are being run by men whose political theories haven’t moved for fifty years only guarantees their demise.

In many ways, what’s changing politics is exactly what’s changing business. However the politicians and their supporter seems far more oblivious to change than their commercial counterparts.