Throttle back budget spending and build skills: CEOs | #education | #technology | #training

He also renewed insurance industry calls for greater government spending on mitigation measures in the face of natural disasters.

It comes as Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg prepares to hand down what most expect will be a big-spending budget including a further $18 billion earmarked for infrastructure, defence projects worth $10 billion, a cut to the excise on fuel, and one-off payments to households and pensioners.

Richard White, the founder of $17 billion software giant WiseTech and a new tech education charitable foundation, wants a long-term focus on lifting the skill base in Australia’s technology sector, which is a major economic growth driver.

He said migration was only a short-term solution and a much more forward-looking approach was needed to ensure the tech sector could fully harness its potential.

“COVID has resulted in an unprecedented wave of tech adoption for businesses across all industries, driving increased demand for tech skills and exacerbating the pre-existing tech talent squeeze,” Mr White said.

“Whilst in the short term, immigration is one way to address the issue, it is only a stop gap measure,” he said.

Westpac chief executive Peter King said the Australian economy was performing solidly and robust prices for mining and agricultural exports had meant the national balance sheet was in a better position now than it was three months ago.

“The strong economy along with the boost to the value of our exports will deliver a much improved starting point for the budget than was expected in the December budget update,” he said.

He backed the plans for the government “delivering some targeted temporary assistance for Australians who are currently challenged by the recent increases in the cost of living”.

Mr King also said close attention should be paid to the supply side of the economy.

“In particular, increasing the employment participation rate, especially for women, as well as areas such as infrastructure, housing, training and the restart of skilled migration,” Mr King said.

Brickworks’ Mr Partridge said the heavy spending by government in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020 was justified because of the substantial uncertainty. “No-one really knew which way it was headed,” he said. But now there was a pathway out of the pandemic, there needed to be more restraint.

“As they went along, they should have moderated expenditure,” he said.

Brickworks operates brands including Austral Bricks, Austral Masonry, Bristile Roofing and Austral Pre-Cast concrete walls, and has 28 sites in Australia. In the past four years the group has made five acquisitions in the United States as part of a diversification strategy.

He said the No.1 priority for Australia is to substantially lift migration levels again to help deal with a skills shortage.

Mr Partridge said companies across the board in the industry were scrambling to find staff. “Every one is 5 or 6 per cent short”.

Peter Lock, chief executive of Heritage Bank which has more than $12 billion in loans and assets, said he had always expected this Federal budget to be a spending-based one because of the “political imperative” of an upcoming election.
He said he supported a certain level of a spending Budget because “we’re not out of the woods with the pandemic” but believed announcements by politicians went beyond that level. “You don’t run a business that way,” he said.

Both sides of politics were guilty of such behaviour, he said. He said he supported some measures, such as the temporary drop in fuel excise following the war in Ukraine and supply chain problems, and any long-term investment in infrastructure.

WiseTech’s Mr White said the tech sector’s importance to Australia would only accelerate.

“The tech sector has the potential to become an increasingly significant source of ongoing economic growth, providing high quality employment and value creation for future generations of Australians.

“To build a much larger, high value, Australian technology industry we need investment in grass roots education and training, initiatives that retain existing tech talent in Australia, and reskilling and upskilling programs for mid-career Australians who are re-entering the workforce,” he said.

Programs to transition workers from other sectors should also be implemented, he said.

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