James Riley
June 29, 2016

Election enters its final, brutal stage

Election 2016

Election enters its final, brutal stage

Malcolm Turnbull: Has entered the final week with a rails-run to the finish

It is a campaign that started with air swings and false indignations at every turn. But as we enter this final and ultimately brutal stage of Election 2016, the telling signs are becoming more obvious.

Tech and innovation policy is not going to shift many votes. People have more urgent priorities beyond the around-the-edges nature of industry development.

The tech and innovation sector has a self-image as some kind of lost and forgotten tribe, never getting the attention from the candidates it feels it deserves. The reality is different of course. Innovation policy is just one of thousand different priorities of a campaign.

This very fact makes election commentary that focuses entirely on innovation policy sound whacky. It is fraught.

All of the tribes of the tech community should be feeling pretty good about this election. The primary issues the broad industry faces have largely been given attention by the major parties.

For those of us who follow these things, it is never enough, of course. There is always more to be said, and more to be done.

But given that the broad sweep of the information technology sector has not registered on the political radar for decades, this campaign has seen its messaging projected into the mainstream (sometimes in bizarre ways, but it is certainly an issue.)

I got a dose of this at a Scott Morrison press conference held at Tyro Financial Hub about mid-way through the campaign. Here was a Federal Treasurer talking about blockchain and its potential in government procurement, and about regulatory technology (RegTech) as a “weapon” for improving inward investment and economic growth.

It is great thing to see a Treasurer in amongst the tech detail. He’s not the Lone Ranger on this stuff, with Labor counterpart Chris Bowen completely comfortable talking about challenges and opportunities of technology.

And of course, anyone who has watched the Prime Minister for any length of time can see he gets genuinely energised in the presence of entrepreneurs and talking about tech ventures, which he did on his forays into accelerators and co-working spaces.

Sometimes you had to listen extra carefully, but you could still hear the innovation messaging at the centre of the Prime Minister’s stump on the economy, regardless of where he’s been campaigning.

This is the reality of industry policy as it relates to technology. It frames the context in which macro policy on economic and social issues are debated. Whether it is Labor announcing more fibre (albeit with somewhat untried technology) to premises, or the government promising to reform technology procurement, these debates are the supporting infrastructure for bigger debates.

But it is important infrastructure nonetheless. It is worth looking at the campaign launches for clues.
It is not an accident that Malcolm Turnbull saved two important but highly targeted tech policy announcements for the Coalition’s campaign launch last Sunday.

The $30 million program to support women in STEM-based internships, and a further $50 million toward seniors’ digital literacy are ultimately modest initiatives. But they underscore the two central narratives around building capacity and ensuring inclusion for the broader economic message.

The tone has been as important as the substance. This is certainly true of the two campaign launches. Labor presented a kind of faux political rally, while the Coalition presented a more measured, sober traditional campaign launch (such is the advantage of incumbency.)

It’s not like Bill Shorten does not get this stuff. Labor was way out in front of this government on tech and innovation policy right up until Tony Abbott was dropped as leader. It was a clear differentiator, and a genuine vote changer. But this is no longer the case.

So here we are. The major parties’ policies have been announced and they have been costed. The fighting continues. Political careers will be made and broken in the next several days.

InnovationAus.com will publish its final election commentary on election eve.

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