The tech sector needs a more effective and influential voice in Canberra to avoid further “unintended consequences” in government legislation, according to the AIIA’s new policy advisor.
Simon Bush, a 20-year government relations veteran, started last week as the Australian Information Industry Association’s new head of policy and advocacy.
Mr Bush founded Bush-Consulting in 2003 and is a former chief executive of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association and was a director of Creative Content Australia. He has previously served as a senior policy advisor to a federal Cabinet minister in the 1990s and as a director at Accenture from 2000 to 2003.
He will lead the development and execution of AIIA policy, including through research and preparing submissions to government on relevant issues and legislation. Mr Bush is now meeting with politicians, advisors and AIIA members to get up to speed in the role.
“The level of engagement and enthusiasm from members and the government to my appointment has been fantastic. I’m looking forward to working with members and senior levels of government to decide on policy priorities for the sector moving forward,” Mr Bush told InnovationAus.com.
“I will sit down and work with our members and engage with ministers and senior advisors to understand their areas of focus and the issues so we’re aligned as best we can with industry and government in order to be an effective and influential voice.”
Mr Bush is based in Canberra and will work full-time for the organisation.
He said one of his main goals would be to convey the importance of the tech sector to both the government and the opposition.
“The tech sector is a $122 billion industry and it contributes 6.6 per cent of GDP and employs 720,000 Australians, but I don’t know whether that’s well understood by many policymakers,” Mr Bush said.
“It’s an incredibly important part of the economy, and over the next five years we need another 100,000 trained tech employees in the labour force,” he said.
“Our economy, society, government and businesses are embracing new technology, and the AIIA needs to ensure it has a strong voice to engage with government, and that government looks to the AIIA and its members for advice.”
The effectiveness of the Australian tech sector in lobbying government was called into question following the passing of the highly controversial encryption bill late last year and a social media crackdown earlier this year.
Mr Bush said it was important for tech lobbyists to actually spend the time to form relationships with politicians and their advisors in Canberra, rather than adopting a fly in, fly out approach.
“It’s engagement – you can’t just fly into Canberra once a quarter, have a meeting and think that’s enough. You need to be proactive,” he said.
“Ideally you want to know about the issues before they come out, and you need to have those trusted relationships across both sides of politics and in departments and agencies so you can get to a situation where whatever decision is made by government, you have well considered legislation that has a mind to reduce or have no unintended consequences.”
“The issue is around drafting, and unintended consequences through a lack of consultations. We want to be making sure there’s ongoing and constant consultation and that the government understands the importance of the tech sector.”
With responsibility for tech policy sitting across several government departments and ministers, it is important that the tech industry present a united lobbying front, he said.
“There’s a lot of fragmentation across government as to where tech policy sits. It doesn’t sit neatly anywhere and the departments don’t necessarily communicate.
“It’s up to industry to do that, and certainly in my role I’ll be looking to work cooperatively with government and the opposition to get across the importance of the sector and why good policy is good for everyone.”
And there is a near-unprecedented understanding of technology and the sector in the current government, Mr Bush said.
“We’ve got a really good situation where we’ve got at the most senior levels of government people who understand the value of the tech sector both to the economy and to the citizens.
“I’ve never really seen a government before that interested in tech policy, with the exception of probably Malcolm Turnbull,” he said.
The AIIA was founded in 1978 and is Australia’s peak representative body and advocacy group for the information technology sector.
The organisation has been without a senior policy advisor since Kishwar Rahman resigned from the role in April after less than a year in the role. This left the AIIA without a voice in Canberra during the election campaign earlier this year, and for the first 100 days of the new Morrison government.
The AIIA has also appointed Adriana Brusi as the organisation’s new general manager of events, with this position to now be based in Melbourne instead of Canberra.
The AIIA inked a deal with the Victorian government late last year to move its headquarters to Melbourne and host the annual iAwards in the city for another four years. It’s understood this deal came with headcount requirements and a number of other roles will also be moving to Melbourne.