The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to refocus on innovation and science, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says, but a major cultural change is needed to get the general public on board.
Signalling that it will become a significant plank of Labor’s policy platform, Mr Albanese will deliver his third ‘vision statement’ focused on science and innovation at the National Press Club next week.
Speaking at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s State of the Nation forum on Monday, Mr Albanese said particular focus needed to be put on improving the commercialisation of research, addressing the skills gap, and the cultural changes to make Australians less fearful of technological change.
“We’ve been historically very good at innovating. What we haven’t always done is commercialised, we haven’t taken advantage of that. It’s a matter of doing both, and the pandemic is an opportunity for that,” Mr Albanese said.
This will require improved communications around technology and innovation-based policies and assure the public that this won’t lead to job losses, he said.
“When people hear innovation, they hear ‘my job is disappearing’. Some of that frankly is driven by politics … the section of the climate change deniers in the Coalition, who are the handbrake on anything happening, talking about renewables as somehow meaning less jobs,” he said.
“There are a range of ways in which productivity and innovation have liberated our quality of life. There are downsides to that, but overall, the quality of life of Australians is much better than it was some time ago.
“People are understandably fearful of change. It has to be explained how it will benefit people rather than with some obscure statements about productivity going forward and figures. If it is explained properly, people vote with their feet.”
Mr Albanese also wants his own side of politics to look towards the future and what can change going forward.
“People on the progressive side of politics can completely romanticise the past as well, and that can be a bit of a handbrake on change,” he said.
“But I am someone who is optimistic, someone who does embrace change, someone who wants to take people on the journey, and that’s a matter of leadership as well.”
Mr Albanese’s speech at the CEDA event focused on how Australia will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to restart the economy with new policies and spending.
“We owe Australians the vision and courage to imagine and create a better future. A future underpinned by the togetherness that got us through the coronavirus,” he said.
“A starting point is how do we actually move out of the pandemic stronger? How do we not just return to what was there beforehand? How do we learn the lessons that have brought, whether that be our dependence upon particular markets? How can we have advanced manufacturing, so we are more resilient as an economy to the potential future shocks which are there?”
New policies are also needed to ensure people are secure in their work, with a particular need to address workers in the gig economy, he said.
“There’s been a massive growth in the gig economy without a consequential debate about what the implications are for security at work during that period,” Mr Albanese said.
Mr Morrison also addressed the CEDA forum on Monday morning, detailing the Coalition’s policy priorities for the economy to help Australia emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The speech did not mention innovation once, and the only mention of technology was around supporting the use of blockchain in business communications.