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Atlassian boss Scott Farquhar reveals the tax and talent challenges the tech giant is facing in Australia

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar.

Australia’s tax system is one of the issues Atlassian boss Scott Farquhar believes is holding business back, making it difficult to build innovative and mobile workforces.

While recognising Australia’s recent efforts to improve regulations for startups, he says governments still make it hard for business through the tax system, much of which he describes as regressive.

“Payroll tax is a regressive tax. I view things like stamp duty, personally, as regressive taxes because if you’re paying stamp duty on your house… you’re less likely to go for two years and work in the country as a doctor,” he told Business Insider. “They can be doing more on the R&D.”

Enabling startups and breakthrough companies to grow quickly with the right policy incentives is something Farquhar believes is crucial for the country’s future as the mining boom fades. “I’m pretty passionate that we can’t live on the back of the things we dig out of the ground forever,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges Atlassian faces, as a company scaling globally, is hiring talent.

Farquhar said: “The biggest problem we face is the availability of people with the right qualifications.”

He explained finding talented people with the right experience in technology and computer science skills, and who fit with the company’s no-nonsense culture is an area “we spend most of our time”.

Atlassian is a heavy user of the 457 visa skilled migration program in Australia. With a dearth of tech grads locally they’re having to import talent from overseas and while having the skills in Australia is good for the wider industry, Farquhar said it can have knock-on effects internally.

“The downside of that unfortunately is it becomes quite an imbalance between our local staff and the people we bring in,” Farquhar said.

Before the end of the financial year Atlassian is aiming to hire an additional 600 staff but Farquhar said attracting senior staff had been “a big struggle”.

Part of the struggle has been the difficulty of dealing with the global tax system, Farquhar said.

“We’ll import people from the US and the global tax system screws them up because they have to pay California tax, even though they were working in Australia,” he said.

But even though these employees are working and paying tax in Australia, because of the visa conditions, they still have to pay for things like schooling and healthcare.

“We have to wear the cost of doing that so it costs us a lot more,” he said. “The double taxation – it hurts them.”

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