In a join letter addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, 14 Aussie start-ups have called for a greater level of engagement with the government in relation to policy settings that may aid the recovery and growth of Australia’s fragile start-up ecosystem and the tech economy.
The letter — signed by the founders of 14 companies including Freelancer, Prospa, Atlassian, Canva, Culture Amp, SafetyCulture, Airwallex, Deputy, Redbubble, and StartupAUS — suggests that with the appropriate support, the start-up ecosystem could be key to “a strong and enduring Australian economic recovery, driven by innovation and technology”.
Of particular concern to the signatories is the proposed Treasury Laws Amendment (Research and Development Tax Incentive) Bill 2019, which is currently under consideration by the Senate Economic Legislation Committee.
The changes proposed in the amendment could see spending cut by $1.8 billion and cap tax offsets at $4 million for small companies accessing the scheme.
The group explained that while it appreciates that the bill was born in a different time to achieve different objectives, “we strongly oppose it today not only for what it contains but for what it is lacking”.
“Now is not the time to reduce the level of government support for R&D in Australia, which already lags behind peer OECD nations in this respect. Rather, the existing RDTI mechanism is an ideal vehicle by which to deliver much-needed stimulus directly to the innovation economy,” the group said.
It has asked the government to consider a number of short and medium-term measures to stimulate R&D and growth of the innovation economy during the ongoing pandemic.
Specifically, the group has asked for a moratorium to clawback RDTI claims and for the ATO to pay early refunds ahead of the tax cycle. It has also demanded a one-time stimulus to eligible small entities that use the RDTI program.
In the medium term, the start-ups noted they want to see the RDTI program changed to address concerns around whether software development activities qualify or to start a new program that would encompass these software development activities.
“While we appreciate that these investments will come at an expense, we propose them with the firm belief that the innovation economy, including the tech economy… will drive the future of Australia’s prosperity,” the start-ups noted.
In a separate statement issued alongside the letter, Scott Farquhar, co-founder and CEO of Atlassian, said that cutting R&D “makes no sense, especially while the government is looking for ways to rebuild our economy”.
“The technology industry is a fast track to Australia’s post-pandemic recovery. It’s a massive force multiplier for jobs and already makes up 6 per cent of our GDP, a number which could be much higher,” he said.
“Doubling down on our investment in innovation now will reward our nation 10-fold into the future.”