Michael Sainsbury
February 25, 2016

Fifield: The lost child of Cabinet

Fifield: The lost child of Cabinet

Mitch Fifield: Wandering lost somewhere in the policy ether

Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, that Tony Abbott is still Prime Minister and is busy executing his groundbreaking innovation strategy.

Then imagine that he has a Cabinet committee on Innovation and Science, and does not include his Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

See? You woke up! Clearly it’s all a dream.

But this is precisely the situation in which Mr Turnbull’s Communications Minister Mitch Fifield finds himself.

The man responsible for Australia’s national digital infrastructure, as well as the digital communications and media services that sit atop it, gets no seat on the Innovation and Science Committee of Cabinet.

You might also wonder out loud why the newly-appointed Minister for Regional Communications Fiona Nash – recently elevated as Deputy Leader of The Nationals – is similarly out in the cold.

Has the Prime Minister somehow missed the convergence of communications, media and information technology during his long years away from the tech sector?

Or perhaps he thinks that, as the former Communications Minister, the masterful creator of the hodge-podge best effort network that the NBN has become, he can cover off any pesky platform and network issues in the group.

In another, better world, perhaps there could have been an argument that the Innovation and Science committee was to remain small and agile (there’s that word again!) and there just wasn’t room for the Comms guy.

But no. This committee (and this is not a suggestion that its mere existence is a problem) is anything but small and agile.

It’s worth listing, once more, its members: the Prime Minister, the deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Treasurer Scott Morrison, the Industry Minister Christopher Pyne as deputy chair, Health Minister Sussan Ley, Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos, Assistant Cabinet Secretary Peter Hendy, Assistant Minister for Science Karen Andrews and Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy.

Phew. You could run a whole country with a committee that size!

Yep, a round dozen. Quite how a number of them got a seat before the Communications Minister (Hendy, Bishop, Morrison to name three) is frankly head-scratching.

The NBN, no matter what you think of its latest design, is the single largest – and most expensive – piece of innovation infrastructure by an Australian government. It is the largest science project an Australian government will undertake.

But most critical its success is absolutely fundamental to the hot bed of science and innovation that the PM envisions as a key plank of Australia’s future.

For innovation in agriculture, education, health and science, connectivity is fundamental.

Is it that the Mr Turnbull has missed this point and that omission is a searing insight into the “she’ll-be-right NBN” that he is bequeathing Australia?

Or is it that he realized just what a dud he has created, and that he wants it no where near his upbeat, gee-whiz vision of innovation nirvana?

Because the NBN certainly does not fit into that.

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