It’s unclear exactly how many jobs new drone delivery companies will create. (Supplied: Wing)
Google-linked drone delivery service accused of profit shifting during world-first Australian trial
The Queensland Labor Government is facing accusations of overselling the job creation benefits of a new automated drone delivery service.
- The Queensland Government said a new drone delivery service “would create jobs for drone pilots”
- The Google-linked company paid just $305,000 in salaries for a full year despite delivering thousands of packages in Canberra
- The Queensland Opposition has accused the Government of lying about the benefits of disruptive technology
Queensland Minister for Innovation Kate Jones, in a press release, said the company Wing’s new service in Logan “would create jobs for drone pilots in Queensland”.
The financial statement of Wing — linked to global internet giant Google — showed the company spent just $305,000 in salaries in a trial it ran in Canberra in 2018, despite delivering thousands of packages.
The Opposition’s spokesman for innovation Michael Hart said the financial statement showed “there’s not too many people working for them”.
“But they seem to have made a lot of money,” he said.
Wing recorded revenue of more than $5 million during the period. The company recorded a profit of $335,000 after paying millions to its overseas corporate parent.
The payments to its parent company have prompted accusations that Wing has shifted its profits from Australia to minimise its tax bill.
Wing’s operations in Australia are more advanced than in other locations and are watched closely by the aviation sector and delivery competitors such as Amazon.
‘Hard to believe’ job creation
In announcing the trial in late July, Ms Jones praised Wing and said “we’re working with the world leaders in drone technology to create jobs for Queenslanders”.
“That’s why we’re partnering with Wing today to make sure that we lead the way when it comes to capitalising on the opportunities provided by technological advancements in drone technology.”
A Wing spokesperson told the ABC “we intend to hire staff from Logan and the broader region to run our delivery service”.
“This will include licensed remote aircraft pilots who will oversee the operations and maintenance of our autonomous aircraft, customer service representatives, merchant operations teams, and general operations staff,” the spokesperson said.
“Additionally, we anticipate the merchants that will co-locate at Wing’s delivery facility will also need to hire to support their operations.”
Centre for Future Work director Jim Stanford said it was “hard to believe” that drone-based package delivery could be a net job-creator in any foreseeable scenario.
“Every package delivered by a drone, is a package that is not delivered by some other system — like couriers and trucks,” he said.
“And those industries tend to be more labour-intensive in their production processes, including large numbers of drivers.
“While a regional politician might think it’s good branding for their jurisdiction to be seen to be jumping on board a new technology, it’s far-fetched to see this is a spur to job-creation, at least on a net basis.”
The Queensland Opposition’s Mr Hart argued the Government had misled the public about the service.
“For her to say there’s a lot of jobs in this is misleading and the Government shouldn’t be lying to people,” he said.
“They should tell the truth about what the results of this sort of technology will be to people’s jobs.”
Light on local vacancies
Wing is part of the “other bets” group of parent company Alphabet, which also owns Google.
According to its website, it is currently looking to fill 40 vacancies.
It is currently running drone delivery services in Canberra, Virginia and Helsinki.
Seven vacancies are in these locations while 21 are in Palo Alto, California, including the only “pilot”-related role.
“There may a few new jobs operating drones, and I’m sure a lot of young people would think that is a cool job — almost like getting paid to play a video game,” Dr Stanford said.
“But remember, the same twin forces of technology and profit motive that have automated so many other jobs, will quickly learn to automate drone piloting.
“I wouldn’t view it as a significant new source of work for young people, in either the short run or the long run.”
Development approval for a Logan facility has been granted by council. Wing is currently undertaking community consultation in two potential service regions, in Marsden and neighbouring Crestmead.
Safety approvals for the Logan service are currently being processed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
The Federal Government is currently carrying out a review of drone noise regulation.