MultiPLIERS minus the locals

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Local players and the Opposition have criticised the Federal Government's move to create a board of advisers comprised of chief executive officers from multinational IT companies operating locally.

The initiative, called MultiPLIERS - Multinationals Promoting Local Investment, Export opportunities and Research Strengths - is a group comprised of senior managers from the local operations of more than 20 technology multinationals. The aim is to attract more foreign investment in the Australian hi-tech industry, IT and Communications Minister Richard Alston said at the unveiling on Wednesday.

However the Opposition said the move will leave local technology businesses “out in the cold”.

The MultiPLIERS CEOs - heads of local operations of multinational IT firms - are expected to act as champions for the Australian ICT industry, promoting the local industry both within their companies and more widely. Alston said the companies to be represented on the MultiPLIERS board together generated $34 billion in annual revenue and employed 85,000 people in Australia.

The new program will be managed through a secretariat provided by the Australian Information Industries Association.

However shadow minister for IT, Kate Lundy, criticised the move, saying it will provide foreign owned multinationals “exclusive access to the Minister's ear, at the expense of Australian small to medium ICT businesses”.

“If Senator Alston really wanted to demonstrate a commitment to Australia's ICT industry, he would spend less time shouting rounds of drinks to big end of town CEOs, and more time listening to the local industry, and acting on their concerns,” she said. “Perhaps Senator Alston's enthusiasm to create another CEO network has more to do with developing a post-parliamentary career options for himself than developing the Australian ICT industry.”

Managing director of Ipex, Joel Schwalb said he had “doubts whether this group will “deliver the goods”, and is in danger of becoming “yet another club that will have a chance to have the ears of the government but will deliver very little in return.”

“It seems that it is again AIIA who are the mouthpiece for the multinationals – the largest contributors of AIIA's budget. What stopped the multinationals that have made hundreds of millions of dollars to have done this in the last ten to twenty years? If they have expertise in selling Australia to overseas investors, why haven't they done it until now? Investments are pure commercial transactions. If any one of those 20 would have invested here themselves, more investors would join or follow,” he said.

For this reason, Schwalb said “I would not join this club even if I would be invited.” Schwalb conceded Lundy's point, saying “this club could increase the multinationals individual influence on the government with the aim to better their local sales”.

“I have no doubt that [Senator Alston] believes in the merit of this initiative. But if he doesn't make sure that he makes it clear to the members that no deliveries within 12 month will make the government revisit the advantages they enjoy now, it will not benefit Australia one bit,” he said. “Ipex will watch the results not the rhetoric,” he added.

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