WA tech sector fights for recognition

WA is in danger of becoming a technological backwater, with the Barnett Government's lack of recognition of the IT industry reflecting on its poor standing within the State's business community, industry representatives say.

The State's two peak bodies for the IT industry - which indirectly employs 48,000 people in WA - say unqualified people are being put in positions of power while the stars of the industry are leaving in droves, in part because IT is ignored by the State Government.

The technology industry says this lack of recognition is reflected in the fact that there is no technology minister, with the sector currently sitting in both Colin Barnett's science portfolio and the Michael Mischin's commerce portfolio.

WA Information Technology and Telecommunications Alliance president Sue Findlay said the brain drain from WA's tech industry - and general ignorance of the sector - would continue unless drastic action was taken.

"The industry's concerned as numbers coming through schools are waning," Mrs Findlay said. "If the trend continues, it's going to get to the point where we're not going to have the skill set in this State any more, it won't contribute to the GDP and we'll be forced to buy expertise from China and India.

"The Government is so busy pandering to the mining industry and China that they're ignoring the cash cow sitting under their nose - to the extent that there's no minister responsible for IT in this State."

The calls were backed by Australian Computer Society chairman David Cook, who said the Government did not have a sharp enough view on the importance of technology, which reflected on commerce in WA.

"The key is understanding the need for IT skill and the Government needs to create a genuine framework for recognising skills," Mr Cook said.

Speaking for the Government, Mr Mischin described the criticism as "surprising".

"It is easy to complain that Government is not paying enough attention to the industry and to complain about a 'brain drain'," Mr Mischin said. "But instead of speaking in generalities, (the) industry can assist by identifying some specific issues and suggesting industry-informed solutions. I have not been approached by either body with any specific concerns."

According to the Australian Computer Society, 48,000 people are employed in IT, or what the industry refers to as ICT (information and communications technology) in WA. However, that includes those employed by sectors including the resources industry.

The society said the resources industry was underpinned by its key IT achievements, such as driverless trucks and trains.

Shadow commerce spokeswoman Kate Doust joined the wave of criticism, pointing to the closure of the Government's Digital Economy Branch within the Department of Commerce late last year.

Ms Doust also referred to a tech industry publication of a report that ranked WA's ICT policy as the worst in the country.

Mr Mischin did not address questions about the lack of a government minister for the technology sector or the closure of the Digital Economy Branch.

The West Australian

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