West Australian tech experts call for more investment from government as state tries to pivot away from resources sector – ABC News

West Australian tech experts call for more investment from government as state tries to pivot away from resources sector
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Known as the mining state, Western Australia has long relied on its natural resources for the prosperous situation it finds itself in.
Treasury figures released last month saw the state's budget surplus revised up, to $6 billion.
However, what will Western Australia do when the rocks run out?
The McGowan government has long been talking about the need to diversify Western Australia's economy and one of the ways it wants do it is through science, innovation and technology.
While the state is well known for punching above its weight on the world stage when it comes to developing medical research innovations, when it comes to developing new industries through innovation, its record is not as impressive.
Glenn Butcher is a semi-retired tech executive who has held senior roles with several big technology companies, among them Atlassian and Amazon.
He is passionate about helping the next generation of tech entrepreneurs fulfil their ambitions.
"When I left [Western Australia], there wasn't really anything here at all," Mr Butcher said
"And, in the last decade or so, we've really shifted, and we now have the beginnings of a thriving ecosystem of generating … new startups [and] new, innovative companies in all kinds of areas."
He says that, while the government has done a lot to help with the transition, it still has more to do.
"Some of the numbers [the government] have actually show that they've got a five-fold return. For every dollar they put in, the state got $5 back, so it's been tremendously valuable for the state government to do that," Mr Butcher said.
"But [the money they've spent] really isn't enough to really change the state. When other states around Australia are putting in hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars towards the sector, we really need to catch up, if not exceed, what those other states are doing."
Stephen Dawson only took over the Innovation and ICT portfolio in December 2021.
He's also the Minister for Medical Research and, along with the Deputy Premier Roger Cook, the Minister for Jobs and Trade, the pair are responsible for driving innovation and commercialisation in Western Australia.
Mr Dawson says the government is committed to creating an ecosystem locally where the sector can "flourish and thrive", citing the New Industries Fund, the Industry Attraction Fund, and the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund as examples of the state's commitment to that goal.
The total pool of money for these funds is $260 million.
In contrast, the Victoria government has allocated $2 billion for innovation via its Breakthrough Victoria fund and the Queensland government has committed $750 million through its Advance Queensland initiative.
Mr Dawson says the McGowan government is doing things differently in Western Australia.
"We're trying to spread our money as widely as we can to create more opportunities across the sector," he said.
"So, we've made a decision in terms of Collie for example, to move away from coal. And, so, there's a significant investment — about $3.8 billion [that] is being invested in renewable energy technology, and a new operation in that space. That's significant.
"That's more than any other state or territory in the country.
"As well as that though, of course, we're spending money in health innovation, medical research and attracting new industries here.
"So, altogether, if you add all those buckets of money together, it's multi-billions of dollars. And we … compare favourably to other states in that regard."
Queensland also has a chief entrepreneur, who is the flag-bearer for innovation and entrepreneurship in that state.
The minister says it's something the government is considering for Western Australia.
"It has been raised with me over the last few months by the sector. We're just working out how it might work in Western Australia," Mr Dawson said.
"We do have a chief scientist in Western Australia — Professor Peter Klinken AC — who does a tremendous job in making sure science is at the forefront of government decision-making.
"So I'd want to work out how a chief entrepreneur might work in with the chief scientist."
There are many tales of West Australian start-ups leaving the state because there was simply not the support for them to flourish here, the most-famous departure being Canva, the now multi-billion-dollar graphic design firm.
Lucy Cooke has dreams that SpaceDraft — the software planning tool she's created — will go on to achieve the same level of success.
The 34-year-old employs 10 full-time staff in her Nedlands office and wants to remain in Perth, but is considering moving to Singapore where, she says, there's more support on offer.
"If we don't get more support within Western Australia, we'll have no choice," Ms Cooke said.
"I've worked too hard, the team have worked too hard, to get to this point.
"The product deserves the greatest chance of success."
"So, if we don't get that kind of funding locally from government and that … affirmation of 'Yes, we're proud that you're here' then we've got to go somewhere else where we're going to get that kind of support."
Ms Cooke said she had applied for about 15 grants to help develop her business but has received just one, of $25,000.
"We've got about 17 interns that come through SpaceDraft from all over," she said.
"We work with a lot of neurodiverse students that come here, who have found their world in game design.
"So it'd be great for [the government] to know how much we're trying to give back to the community here in Western Australia regarding tech and, in the startup ecosystem, and, yeah, we're just not getting the support that I guess I'd hoped that we would have, given the money that I've managed to raise and the jobs I've managed to create."
Glenn Butcher says it is a familiar scenario.
"I know of several startups that have moved interstate because of signals that the other states have given," he said.
"So, the other states, like Victoria, have said they'll allocate a certain amount of money towards 'X'. And those companies have said, 'We would like the opportunity to get access to that capital' and they've moved.
"Whether they actually got access to the capital or not, it makes no difference. They moved because they thought that they might."
"So, if we can send that same kind of signal here in Western Australia, we have an opportunity to keep those businesses here … and maybe even attract businesses from elsewhere into Western Australia."
Mr Dawson has invited any businesses facing roadblocks to contact him directly.
"I want companies to have a choice. They can choose to stay in Western Australia and not be forced to go elsewhere," the minister said.
"Some companies choose to go to the US because they want to make it big, and I can't stop that but, certainly, for those who want to stay in Western Australia, who've got family roots here, who recognise, you know, how good a place it is. I want them to have every opportunity to stay here."
He says the government is in conversations with venture capital funds to help facilitate that.
"I think those types of things [private sector funding] are a game-changer and are the difference between whether someone stays here or whether someone goes," Mr Dawson said.
While that's music to Mr Butcher's ears, he says it is the West Australian government that has the chance to be the biggest game-changer of all.
"I think we have such an opportunity, given all the changes happening in the world. We have so many advantages coming out of COVID," Mr Butcher said.
"We have so many advantages, as a state. It would be an incredible shame if we didn't grab that window of opportunity [that] we have right now, to be bold and to be courageous, and to make a real difference for us and for our children growing up here in Western Australia."
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