Discussions of Australia's value proposition at the AIIA Borderless World Conference yesterday inevitably centred on what panellists agreed was the country's greatest advantage: talent.
Ironically, the realisation comes at a time when Australian IT talent is in dangerously short supply.
Educational institutes are reporting declining IT enrolment figures. Meanwhile, skilled professionals are emigrating towards bigger and better opportunities in overseas markets.
One of the conference panelists was Graham Edelsten, co-founder of Auran Games, which is a Queensland-based company that develops software targeted at the burgeoning online games market in China and Korea.
"Here we are in Australia, where our labour cost is so much higher," said Edelsten, who currently holds both director and chief financial officer positions at Auran. "But because our technology is still more advanced, and [because of] our creativity due to our political system, we can produce a game that's so successful that it is attractive to those [Chinese and Korean] markets."
"There are very, very creative people in Australia - but we lose a lot of our intellectual property especially to the U.S.," he said.
Technology behemoth Google is one U.S. company that has historically attracted some of the top Australian talent away from the country's sunny shores. And while the company's 2005 launch of its Sydney office has allowed more of its Australian employees to remain in the country, remotely located employees still contend with issues to do with Google's globally distributed workforce.
"We're here [in Australia] because that's where the talent is," said conference panellist Alan Noble, head of engineering at Google's Sydney office. "We recognise that not everybody who is an engineer wants to go and work in Mountain View, California."
"I do think we are used to working remotely as a culture," he said, "[but] there are real factors here that we need to work hard to minimize. Time zones are very annoying."
As a nation that is located on opposite ends of the world to its Western-cultured peers, Australia is subjugated to what panellists called the "tyranny of distance".