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EXCLUSIVE - Creating a high-tech state of innovative start-ups & the Cyber Security hub for APAC within Victoria

Minister Dalidakis, what are your core priorities for the coming year?

Well I have 3 core portfolio areas being small business, innovation and trade and all 3 of them sit very nicely complimenting each other. With the small business portfolio, one of the things I constantly say is that start-ups begin as a small business, but they don’t necessarily want to stay as a small business. Thus small businesses are a different body or politic to start ups within the tech sector. So it’s very important as a government that we have very different and discreet policies for each area.

I’d like to think that we are doing that and in August we’re having the Small business Festival Month in Victoria which is the largest small business festival of its type anywhere around the country. We have 450 events across the state in the 31 days of August and nearly half of them are in rural and regional Victoria.

So we need to support our small business community but we can do that in a number of different ways, such as payroll tax relief, support programs like our small business mentoring service and mediation serviceand of course the first intersection with my innovation portfolio is in the Innovation space. For example, last year we created a $60million fund called Launch Vic which is designed to support incubators, accelerators and co-location spaces. Now you would think that most start-up tech companies be they Agri, Bio, Pharma or Fin-tech – it doesn’t matter what type they are – they will all take advantage of the accelerators and incubators. But what I have experienced and seen first hand is that small businesses also love the co-location and shared working spaces and you can see that really nice overlap in terms of policy.

I also have responsibility for Med-Tech which is very important for the state and I look forward to doing more in that space over the coming 12 months. However at the moment I have a clear priority for the Start-up Tech area plus InfoSec or as it is more widely known as Cyber Security.

And then finally there is the trade portfolio which if I overlap that into the Innovation space – we have offices all over the world. We currently have 18 offices globally and by the end of the year we will have 20 with offices opening in Singapore and Santiago, Chile. So we are second to only Austrade in our size and why is that important? Because we can reach out into places such as San Francisco and we do with a lot of the companies that are looking to grow big in the tech space and we want to help them to do that.

My job is not to keep a company in Victoria, my job is to help a Victorian company to conquer the world. So if that means we will take them to Singapore where our 19th office will open shortly or if we take them into San Fran and into the valley or through our network into Europe such as the thriving fin-tech centre of London or to the vibrant start-up community of Berlin. So that’s my job and how the 3 portfolios overlap and complement each other.

In terms of the Innovation aspects of your portfolio, are you involved in improving services to the citizens of Victoria?

Specifically in relation to Innovation, my goal is to see Victoria placed as the number one tech destination in the Asia Pacific region. So we have very clearly made very large strides and in the past year alone, we have seen global tech leaders like Slack, Square, Zendesk, DataCom, Digital Realty, Pocketmath and GoPro all set up regional headquarters in Melbourne. Plus you can add to that Stripe, Etsy and Eventbrite so we are starting to see a significant scale here in Victoria.

They’re choosing Melbourne predominantly as they love what we are doing in the eco-system and Melbourne is culturally very similar to San Francisco and they think that our competitive advantage is our diversity. We embrace people’s differences and celebrate how we can make use of them. Victoria also produces about 32% of IT graduates across Australia. The next best is NSW with 28% and Queensland at 18%. So I want to make sure there is a pipeline for those graduates to enter the workforce and similarly I want to be able to match them up to world class organisations.

And it’s not just overseas by the way as I have not even touched upon our wonderful home grown technology companies such as NitroPDF, Catapult, CultureAmp, REA, Car Sales, Seek, Kogan and 99Designs – these are companies that have done an amazing job in their own right. So to have the locally grown companies along with the international companies that are locating here really ties up nicely with what we are looking to achieve here in Victoria.

Lastly, the digital economy investments represent a huge vote of confidence in the state’s technological expertise and digital capabilities. During the 2015-16 financial year, the Government announced more than 1,787 jobs and $247 million in new technology jobs and investment for Victoria. Victoria is Australia’s technology hub – we are home to a third of the country’s technology workforce, with over 160,000 professionals. So we are creating jobs and spreading wealth across the state through the proliferation of technology start-ups and businesses across the state.

So in your role you’re also leading delegations abroad and how much of what you are doing here is leveraging on the success of what is happening overseas and positioning our companies abroad too?

I approach it with the attitude that whatever we’re doing here, that somebody else is also trying to do it overseas. So whatever we do, we need to do it better and smarter than then next person. I mentioned we are opening our office in Chile and I hope to open it personally in October, but there is much to do in many sectors in the South American region such International Education, Mining and even food and fibre. So trade delegations are very important as they open people’s eyes to what is happening outside of our borders in Australia, but also inward bound is equally as important and we are bringing delegations into Australia as well. Recently I took a group of Chinese buyers to a vineyard in the Nagambie Lakes, to show them what I call grape to glass. Don’t underestimate how important it is to visually and personally experience that in cementing personal and professional relationships.

So if I look at what’s coming up I’m about to embark delegation to the US in late September that’s focused on the start-up and tech sectors of San Francisco, the Fin-tech community of New York and then the cyber element of Washington DC. And then in November I lead a trade delegation with the Australia/Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC). This is actually the very first delegation of its kind by any government or Minister of this country to Israel for a discrete Cyber Security and Data trade mission. The AICC has led delegations before in defence and security but nobody has led a delegation focused on discrete Data and Cyber Security.

It’s interesting given the recent Census debacle and the Malware attack on Melbourne Health earlier this year, do you think Governments are doing enough to protect themselves from Cyber Terrorism?

As I mentioned, we are trying to establish Victoria as the leading centre for Technology and Innovation in Asia Pacific and one more aspect of this strategy is the development of the Oceania Cyber Security Centre in Melbourne. The OCSC brings cyber security capabilities from across the region to a focal point where we can collaborate and promote industry best practice at a time where the need has never been greater and I think Melbourne is uniquely placed to lead the field in this area.

The global cyber security industry is worth an estimated US$71 billion and growing at a rate of 10% per annum – we are determined to win a bigger slice of that pie. The Oceania Cyber Security Centre (OCSC) will focus activity on the key of critical utility asset infrastructure, gas, electricity, water, telco and transport grids. As well as our health network and IoT. Another focus will be on commercialisation, and being the link between R&D and the private sector/industry.

Other key initiatives that are underway at present within Victoria include; Oxford University establishing its first ever Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC) international office within Victoria. The GCSCC is a leading centre for cyber security research and capacity-building. It will be paired with a new OCSC, which will bring together eight universities, and both local and international private sector partners (major telcos, banks, international cyber research centres and law enforcement agencies).

The Turnbull Government’s recent announcement of their Cyber Security Growth Centre node will be housed within the OCSC to maximise collaboration. An additional partnership has been secured between the Andrews Labor Government and Data61, the digital research arm of the CSIRO and this will see their lead national cyber security centre and cyber leadership be located in Victoria. So these partnerships above follow moves to Victoria by a growing list of domestic and international tech companies plus their cyber security operations including the NBN. 

So all of these initiatives and collaborations are helping to realise our goal of making Victoria the leading hub for Cyber Security within the APAC region. We think that this will lead to further jobs and bolster the digital economy within Victoria. But more importantly, play a role in developing the industry and public policy that should have profound implications for a decade and beyond. 

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