Freelancer founder and chief Matt Barrie has ripped into Australia’s complacency, warning that the country is in a “crisis” with “structural” problems that demand serious reforms.
The Sydney entrepreneur, whose online labour exchange market this year surpassed the entire population of Australia in registered users, raised concerns at the AFR Innovation Summit on Tuesday that the local “basket case” economy relied too heavily on the big banks, property and mining, while missing out on the tech boom.
Barrie said Australia should be putting in place structures to enable the local development of highly scalable businesses like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
“These are the kind of companies we should be building,” he said, according to the AFR’s live blog.
“There is no other industry that (we) can build wealth on… Instead in Australia our top companies as of last night are: a bank, a bank, a bank, a mine… and a telephone company. We live in a monumental time in the market. Australia is completely missing out.”
Barrie accused the government of producing unproductive growth through inflating property values, pointing out that it wasn’t young Australians with jobs that are driving up real estate prices, but foreigners.
“It’s a by-product of central bank madness,” he said.
The high level of interest-free loans was evidence that real estate was an “asset bubble about to pop”, he said, and demanded Australians “get their head out of the sand”.
As a solution, he offered a renewed focus on science and technology education as a sensible path to fixing Australia’s woes.
Increasing the number of Australians qualified in science and engineering would foster technology and other scalable and internationally competitive industries to grow locally. People employed in those areas would then have higher salaries than in the current economy, resulting in more income tax for government coffers.
“We are (currently) too busy at home paying off mortgages watching Netflix,” said Barrie.
“The situation is in absolute crisis. We need to build world-class science in our curriculum.”
His comments this week added to his view earlier this year when he accused the government of tightening up foreign worker visa rules as a blunt instrument to cool property prices, to the detriment of the tech industry.
Barrie founded Freelancer in 2009 and pulled off an IPO on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2013. The company posted a record $52.75 million of revenue for the 2016 calendar year, while harvesting a small net profit of $100,000.