The digital content industry in Australia employs some 300,000 people and contributes A$21 billion annually to the Australian economy. These figures are supported by the Federal Government by none other than Senator Helen Coonan and Ian Macfarlane, the Ministers of Communications and for Industry, Tourism and Resources respectively, in an industry report early this year.
Yet the same government is cutting 50 per cent of its export funding for the digital content industry provided through the Austrade TradeStart program. This will affect all new tenders to be applied for by AIMIA - The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association.
John Butterworth, AIMIA CEO said the cut will result in a significant reduction of export services to the Digital Content Industry and broader ICT sector in Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia. It will also result in the closure of AIMIA’s Queensland office which has for the last 6 years serviced these states. The office will close in late October 2006 unless alternative funding can be sourced. Butterworth said that AIMIA were angry at the Government's move in reallocating funding away from digital content, which goes directly against recent recommendations which identified exporting Australian digital content as a “high priority”.
AIMIA members have spoken out.
Che Metcalfe, founder of Kukan Studio, an Adelaide-based developer of content for mobiles that now exports to Europe, Asia, and North America, said the AIMIA TradeStart program had helped budding digital content exporters that were not based in News South Wales or Victoria.
“The program was a major help to us in getting our first export sale and to see it cut like this is outrageous. There will be other companies like ours that will take a lot longer or might not ever make it to international markets without help from these sorts of programs. For an export-focused country like ours it’s a bizarre decision,” Mr Metcalfe said.
Val Sanders, Managing Director of Queensland-based Conference Online said Digital content companies outside Sydney and Melbourne will be the ones hardest hit by this decision.
“You can’t cut the funding and resources in half, close the office that services the other states, and expect that the whole country is going to continue to get the same opportunities and help from the program. It’s just not realistic,” Mr Sanders said.
Franco Smargarsi from Compass EduMedia in Western Australia said cutting the digital content TradeStart program would directly reduce the number of Australian companies that could access the export assistance the program provides.
“Getting into international markets is hard enough at the best of times. Given that the world is going digital you’d think they’d be increasing the resources for helping Aussie content companies sell overseas, not cutting them,” he said.
This is yet another occasion when the current government says one thing and simply does something else. AIMIA and the digital content industry in Australia deserves better than this Federal Government that is losing its way.