Australia’s 3 biggest technology challenges

The evolution of Australia’s economy will bring a constant stream of new challenges. As a technology journalist, over the last 12 months, there have been three key areas fundamentally shaping this country that I and others have constantly written about, and their importance will only continue to rise.

These are issues that affect our civil liberties, that will help us or hinder us when competing on the global stage, and will affect every Australian, no matter where you live or what you do.

The backbone is the NBN, a topic that has made headlines for years now, and mostly for the wrong reasons. It’s a project so critical to our economic future, yet politicians on both sides are using it as a pawn to grab votes. We’ve changed policies once, away from a full fibre roll out to a “multi-technology mix” from the Coalition which was allegedly meant to be cheaper, with only negligible speed differences.

But several leaks, and many first hand accounts, have shown problems right throughout the project. There have been government payouts to certain big telcos in the country that were a lot higher than first anticipated. As a result of policy changes, the rollout has been significantly delayed, leaving Australia’s technology infrastructure continuing to trail that of its global peers.

The Coalition and its supporters are fine to acknowledge the importance of a national broadband network, but not so much the need for a future-proof, full fibre attack. There are arguments thrown around that it’s simply just for faster movie downloads and for not much else, and that’s completely untrue.

Even if you look at that argument and how the NBN will be used for entertainment, the economic benefits are huge. It creates opportunity for more multinational companies to enter Australia, where they will generate economic activity and pay increasing taxes on their revenues. The vastly superior upload speeds allow Australian artists to create content on platforms such as YouTube for others to enjoy.

The wider economic benefits are huge too: allowing the development of e-commerce, cloud computing for businesses of all sizes, and importantly for those living in rural areas, and telehealth to help doctors treat patients in remote areas.

It also opens up the ability for Australia to be a world leader in the tech startup world.

And that needs real investment – the second big challenge. I spoke to Tien Tzuo, the founder of billion-dollar Silicon Valley company Zuora earlier this week where he reiterated that the Australian consumer and Australian companies are ahead of many parts of the world when it comes to digital adoption.

And with the right infrastructure and support, he believes Australia’s next multibillion dollar company can come from our tech scene.

“What I’d love to see in Sydney is a stronger local VC community,” he said.

“It’s easy for the New York and Bay area VCs to set up an office in London, but Sydney has the unfortunate aspect of just being really far away. It’s still really hard for Australian companies to find capital.”

But most importantly, for an Australian startup to succeed, Tzuo says they need to have lots of tenacity, grit and patience. And of course, pointing to Atlassian as a company possessing all three of those traits.

Then there is data retention.

As of October last year, every phone call you make, text message you send and email you write will be tracked by the government under a new metadata retention scheme.

This scheme is supposedly being implemented to protect the country against organised crime and terrorism, but there have been well-aired questions about its impact on citizens’ privacy.

It’s a vague program, with very little transparency on what data will really be collected. George Brandis famously struggled to explain it, exposing the complexity of the regime in an embarrassing way.

But the general idea is that internet and mobile service providers will be required to hold onto your metadata for two years.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year justified the program by pointing to its national security benefits.

“The important thing here is to give us the tools that we need to ensure that people who are a serious threat to our country are appropriately dealt with, people who are ready to engage in horrific terrorist activity and stating an intention in many cases to engage in mass casualty terrorist activities, can be dealt with in this country,” he said.

These rules are just getting stricter.

American whistleblower Edward Snowden chimed in with his thoughts on the scheme last year too, claiming a data retention scheme would not stop another terrorist attack.

“They’re not going to stop the next attacks either,” he said. “Because they’re not public safety programs. They’re spying programs.”

These are all fundamental issues in Australia. All of which will change the face of the country.

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The Labor MP who ‘forgot’ to declare a $2.3m house just gave a disastrous interview on his party’s election promises

Labor MP David Feeney, who is trying to fight off a strong challenge from the Greens in his inner-Melbourne seat of Batman, has a weekly spot on Sky News with political editor David Speers. With an election campaign underway, most politicians would consider that sort of platform gold, but the shadow minister’s interview today was a strange reverse alchemy.

Feeney missed his regular slot with Speers last week following revelations that he’d failed to declare a $2.3 million investment property, as required under parliamentary rules. The mistake lasted for three years, and it subsequently emerged that Feeney owns four properties with his wife, a lawyer, lives outside his electorate in an apartment worth nearly $3 million and negatively gears the other houses.

Speers asked if his mistake was Labor’s biggest own goal of the campaign.

“I think unfortunately that is a trophy I managed to secure last week,” Feeney said, before proceeding to take the pressure off the Coalition over an argument about election promise costings.

Some watching Feeney’s performance considered that Speers added his scalp to the list of hapless politicians who’ve appeared on the show, including George “metadata is the envelope” Brandis and Christopher “I’m a fixer” Pyne.

Aside from the house, Feeney revealed he knew little about Labor’s major election promises, saying in his defence that “I’ve been distracted over the past few days”.

Speers attempted to quiz him on a range of ALP policies, including pensions and family payments.

“You haven’t got the Cabinet on today David, you’ve just got me,” Feeney said, unable to provide answers.

And the MP demanded the Coalition cost its own policies, Speers probed again on the $4.5 billion school kids bonus.

Feeney wasn’t sure what he was talking about, referring to the baby bonus instead.

“I refer you to the relevant shadow [minister]. I don’t have the answer,” Feeney said.

Here’s some of the exchange:

When it came to not declaring the $2.3 million property, despite having three years to do so, Feeney said it was “human error, just simply a failure.”

Speers wondered if people would find that “hard to swallow”.

“When people forget to register their car, they don’t forget they have a car,” Feeney said. “I never forgot I had a home.”

While taxpayers face fines and other penalties when they fail to declare assets to the government, Feeney said “all that mistake on my part created was three days of humiliation for me. Now that’s fair cop”.

Speers quoted the MP, asking him “Is it still your view that negative gearing is still, quote ‘a scheme for rich investors that reduces housing affordability’?”

The MP replied he was “completely supportive” of Labor’s plan to limit negative gearing and didn’t know whether his investment property was negatively geared when first asked about it because his wife looks after the family finances.

Speers moved in for the kill. So are you “then a rich investor making housing less affordable?”

“I think that would be the objective assessment of ah… that’s certainly the free character assessment I was getting last week,” Feeney said, going on to explain that 20 years ago he lived with his parents for a year, but now, he figured it would probably be five years.

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The building housing one of Sydney’s best restaurants just sold for $6.7 milllion

The food is Argentinian, the chefs are Australian and the landlords are Chinese after the site of Surry Hills restaurant Porteño sold last week for $6.66 million.

The vendor was also a Chinese investor and Andy Hu, associate director at agent Knight Frank said Cleveland Street property was an excellent investment with a yield of 5.36%.

“Surry Hills is a growth area at the fringe of the Sydney CBD and a good investment location. The high-profile tenancy’s lease to Porteno Restaurant until 2020, plus a further five-year option, was a huge drawcard for investment,” he said.

The site was Dimitri’s Greek restaurant before Porteño, owned by chefs Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, opened in 2010. The restaurant is sale comes 16 months after the two-storey bar and Argentinian grill restaurant was extensively damaged in a fire and closed for several weeks for repairs.
The upstairs bar, Gardels, has been named Sydney’s best bar and the ‘two hat’ restaurant is regularly named one of Australia’s top 50 restaurants.

Porteño is Spanish slang for a native of Buenos Aires native and pays tribute to Abrahanowicz’s family heritage. The meat is cooked on adjustable charcoal grills and open fire pit is used to slow-cook whole lambs.

Andy Hu from Knight Frank said it was rare for a property like this to come up for sale.

“Surry Hills is historically a tightly-held market so this was a great find for the buyer,” he said .

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Chinese commodity futures just got crushed

Chinese bulk commodity futures endured another bloodbath on Monday, recording falls of 5% or more.

The most actively traded September 2016 iron ore future on the Dalian Commodities Exchange finished the session at 353 yuan, representing a decline of 4.97%.

Earlier in the day it traded down to 350 yuan, or 6%, its maximum allowable daily decline based on existing exchange rules.

The sell-off corresponded with news that Chinese iron ore port inventories swelled to over 100 million tonnes last week, the highest level seen since March 2015.

According to Bloomberg, citing data from the Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology Company, inventories swelled 1.6% to 100.45 million tonnes, leaving them up 7.9% from levels seen at the start of 2016.

That, along with signs that Chinese steel production may be slowing after hitting a record-high in March, may have contributed to Monday’s weakness.

Hinting that the decline was related to the steel market rather than iron ore specifically, rebar and coking coal futures were also hammered, falling 5.21% and 5.37% respectively.

Like iron ore, they too traded limit down earlier in the session.

Mirroring the movement in Chinese futures, the spot iron ore price tumbled on Monday, recording one of its largest one-day losses on record.

According to Metal Bulletin, the spot price for benchmark 62% fines fell by $3.67, or 6.69%, to $51.22 a tonne, extending its losses from April 21 to 27.3%.

It was the third largest percentage decline registered in the past two years, and left the price at levels last seen on March 3.

Despite the recent sell-off, the price has still risen 17.6% over the course of 2016.

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Telstra is still facing problems two days after its last network failure

Australia’s biggest telco is still facing problems with its network, more than two days after its NBN and ADSL broadband went down on Thursday evening.

A number of users have already taken to Twitter to report the issue with some saying that have not been able to access the internet since Thursday.

According to aussieoutages.com, problems with Telstra began surfacing at 5:57 AM EST on Sunday.

The telco released a statement on Saturday evening saying they were working to restore NBN and ADSL services but said today that “residual issues are taking longer than expected to resolve”.

More than 375,000 customers have been affected by the spout of outages from the telco this year which has led to two free data days.

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