4 April 2023

Call for National Innovation and Technology Precinct to retain and attract firms

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt

Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt: “One of the things that really does help is creating that kind of space where there is actually a physical co-location.” Photo: Andrew Sikorski.

Canberra’s business lobby has called on the ACT Government to establish a National Innovation and Technology Precinct to help take the city’s tech firms to the next level and retain them when they grow.

The Canberra Business Chamber has made the pitch in its submission to this year’s Budget process.

The submission says the ACT was in danger of falling behind other jurisdictions, which were working with industry to establish technology precincts.

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As the home of the Federal Government, Canberra has seen a flourishing of tech start-ups providing services and solutions to departments and agencies, as well as innovative companies coming to the National Capital to be close to regulators.

But the Chamber says small and medium-sized firms face challenges to stay in Canberra as they scale up.

“One of the things that really does help is creating that kind of space where there is actually a physical co-location,” Chamber CEO Graham Catt said.

“The great opportunity that we have here in Canberra is to actually co-locate the private sector for growing private sector businesses, to be helping major government agencies solve problems and work on those together.”

Mr Catt said the ACT Government could work with the Federal Government and industry to provide the kind of setting that would allow firms to grow and attract investment and talent.

He said such technology hubs were common in Europe’s small cities, and Canberra was ideally placed to do something similar.

The submission says there are already some elements in place such as the Canberra Innovation Network, and existing facilities could be quickly repurposed, as well as land identified for such a precinct.

“This initiative would flow directly to an increase in local high-value technology (particularly R&D) jobs, upskilling and knowledge-sharing with the public service, higher domestic capability returns on Government technology spending, as well as stimulating a world-leading local innovation ecosystem, generating a virtuous cycle of more firms choosing the ACT as a base to scale their operations,” the submission says.

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The Chamber is also calling on the government to invest in several key infrastructure projects, including a new convention centre, stadium and affordable housing.

Mr Catt said the first two were projects that refused to go away.

“The convention centre is a very real one, in terms of driving business here and helping support that innovation economy as well as having a facility that can actually host some event, whether that’s a government event, or whether that’s an industry coming together in Canberra,” Mr Catt said.

He acknowledged these were big projects but the Chamber would at least like to see the business cases written and a clear timeline developed.

The Chamber is also pushing the government on cutting red tape and costs for business, particularly in the current inflationary climate.

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Mr Catt said business remained frustrated at the contradictory approaches of government agencies and called for a whole government commitment.

“The better regulation taskforce has been has been great,” he said. “We’ve got a group of people in the public service who are really understanding those challenges, what they mean to business, who have done a great job of engaging and talking to our members and understanding what the regulatory burden looks like.

“But unfortunately, that’s not every directorate and not every portfolio in the government.”

Mr Catt said the recent expansion of portable long service was an example of government imposing an extra cost on business, which went against its stated aim to make life easier for businesses.

The submission also calls for greater government investment in skills training, and a business roadmap for the transition to a zero-emissions economy.

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The Barr Govt should improve their relationship with the Small Business Community and improve their support.

The ACT Budget hasn’t exactly be supportive to any innovative ideas to help businesses thrive

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