MATT BARRIE: Australia's brain drain is 'now in full force', and nobody wants to come here

Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie. Image: Supplied.

The founder and CEO of one of Australia’s most successful technology companies says the nation is rapidly losing skilled workers to the US because of the absence of policy support for high-tech, high-growth businesses.

Freelancer.com’s Matt Barrie says that in Sydney “anyone mildly interesting with a brain is fleeing the city to go overseas” because of continuing absence of leadership and incentives for startups and technology businesses.

He also points to the impact of the 1.30am lockout laws, introduced early in 2014, which have muted the nightlife in the CBD.

“It’s the double whammy of not supporting the technology industry and making Sydney as inhospitable as possible for young people,” Barrie said.

With speculation about Tony Abbott’s leadership returning, Barrie said he saw the potential for change in Canberra as a positive because it might break the policy malaise, especially if Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull returned to the leadership of the Liberal Party.

“At the federal level not only is nothing being done to boost the technology industry – as [Atlassian co-founder] Mike Cannon Brookes said: ‘They seem to be actively avoiding it’.”

Barrie added there was “a much greater chance of support for the technology industry if Malcolm Turnbull takes over leadership”.

Freelancer.com, a global outsourcing marketplace, listed on the ASX in November 2013. Earlier this month it posted record net revenue of $16.8 million and hit positive cash for the six months to June.

Cannon-Brookes, in a recent interview with Business Insider, also pointed to skills shortages as the number one challenge for the local tech industry. Cannon-Brookes said the short-term solution was to import people, but in Barrie’s experience attracting top-flight leaders to Australia is becoming increasingly difficult.

“I’ve lost engineers to Facebook, I’ve lost them to Uber, I’ve lost them to Amazon. I’ve lost them to Silicon Valley startups. I’ve lost them to east coast tech companies. Silicon Valley is teeming with Australians now, we were a novelty back in the late 90s. Now the brain drain is in full force.”

Barrie says he was told by a senior tech recruiter in California recently: “Nobody in Silicon Valley wants to come to Australia anymore. We used to get a few wanting to come over for a lifestyle choice. Now they don’t even want to do that anymore. I would love to help you but we just turned (another billion dollar Australian tech company down). We looked at a split role for another company half in Australia, half in the U.S., and nobody even wanted that. I’m sorry we just won’t even consider a position in Australia.”

Salaries in Australia for people assessing places to live and work are also becoming less competitive because of the falling dollar.

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