Monday, November 16, 2015

Future of the Australian Technology Park

Inside the ATP Innovation CenterRob Stokes, NSW Minister for Planning, announced 12 November 2015 that a consortium lead by property developer Mirvac had one the bid to purchase the Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Redfern, with the Commonwealth Bank as the major tenant.

The minister stated “Our aspiration for this site is to continue the transformation from dilapidated railway buildings to a growing technology hub,” ("Technology future secured at ATP", Government Release,  12 November, 2015). This is misleading, as the ATP has been in operation in the refurbished railway buildings, for two decades. I took part in numerous technology events at the ATP in the 1990s and in 1998 I used the ATP at a conference in Canberra, as an example of how to promote Australian technology. Recently I drew on this work in designing an innovation course for university students.

The problem has not been with the physical infrastructure of the ATP (which has been skillfully transformed), but that the NSW neglected this resource on its doorstep, the universities did not integrate innovation into their degree programs and the federal government did not have effective policies to support this.

Scott Farquhar of Atlassian, part of a rival Walker bid for the ATP, has been critical of the Mirvac/CBA win a "tragic missed opportunity for Australia". However, while Atlassian is a successful Australian tech company, it is difficult to see how their proposal would be materially different from that of Mirvac. The key to making the ATP a success is to use the current empty space (used for surface car parking) for modern high-rise office space. The existing low railway workshops can then be given over to exhibition, conference space and start-up support.

The Commonwealth Bank has integrated innovation into its Sydney CBD headquarters. I was one of the judges for the weekend long Randon Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) held in the roof-top meeting room of the Bank's building (there is also an innovation centre downstairs). This atmosphere should able to be replicated at ATP.

The reborn ATP will likely be a success with long term commercial tenants to fund it, universities now starting to teach innovation to their students and with NSW and federal government taking an interest in supporting innovation in effective ways.

Declaration of Interest: I own shares in the Commonwealth Bank and have been previously paid by ATP to arrange tech-events at the Park.

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