Sydney to get tech city on the harbour

Australia is to get its own Silicon Valley on Sydney Harbour however businesses are concerned about the site's accessibility.

NSW Premier Mike Baird.

NSW Premier Mike Baird has announced plans to transform the Bays Precinct into a tech centre. (AAP) Source: SBS

Imagine Google, Facebook and the country's up-and-coming startups nestled on the glittering foreshore of Sydney Harbour.

That's the NSW government's vision for Australia's first tech district - a `Silicon Harbour' hub that's home to the country's booming startup and tech scene.

"(It could be) a place where global giants of tech and innovation work with startup entrepreneurs, business incubators and accelerators," Premier Mike Baird said before releasing a blueprint for the site.

However wires are crossed on how exactly Mr Baird would transform the old industrial Bays Precinct in Sydney's inner-west - spanning Glebe Island, White Bay and Rozelle - into a thriving tech capital.

While the local tech industry has broadly welcomed the government's initiative, others including the NSW Labor opposition are concerned about the site's lack of public transport and existing tech businesses.

The founders of Australian software giant Atlassian had fiercely lobbied the state government to revitalise the existing Australian Technology Park at nearby Redfern.

The country's most successful startup said it was disappointing the government had favoured the White Bay site over the Redfern centre, which was close to universities and public transport.

"While harbour foreshore views are undoubtedly attractive, they also command a premium price," Atlassian said in a statement.

"And with no nearby mass transit solution, it means the proposal falls way beyond the reach of the majority of our start-up community, incubators and universities who form a critical part of the technology ecosystem."

Startup leaders are also concerned about the time it would take for the area to be redeveloped from an abandoned coal-fired power station.

"With the government's proposal, the tech community would become displaced until well beyond 2020, a millennium in technology years," Atlassian said.

However the federal Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy dismissed quibbles about location, and said the launch of a Sydney tech district would inspire other states to create their own hotspots.

"I think it's very important that we do this wherever possible, and if you look globally you don't just see a single hub of innovation you see several of them like in the US and Israel," he told AAP.

Mr Roy said the site would need cornerstone tenants like Google Australia or the CSIRO to anchor the hub and attract local and international businesses.

Founder of startup incubator BlueChilli, Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, shared Atlassian's concerns about steep rents.

"Putting a lot of money into a development centre will only benefit startups if the rent is subsidised in some way," he said.

He added that governments should encourage large multinational companies like Google to set up research and development centres to attract industry players.

3 min read
Published 22 October 2015 at 9:11am
Source: AAP