Budget reply short on optimism

James Riley
Editorial Director

You wouldn’t want to read too much into it, but Bill Shorten’s faux-feisty budget reply last night did nothing to paint a picture of how Labor would shape Australia’s response to the challenges and opportunities of the current information revolution.

For that we will wait to hear from Chris Bowen next week, when he delivers shadow treasurer’s budget reply at the National Press Club. This is where the deeper thinking gets applied to building national capability and industry development.

But it was disappointing, just as Scott Morrison’s budget speech on Tuesday night was disappointing.

Bill Shorten: A budget reply that was hard for the tech sector to get excited about

It is worth acknowledging that these speeches are not straight forward. Just like real life, they are delivered to a bunch of different audiences and competing interests.

And if the Treasurer’s address was a fundamental political reset, then I suppose it follows that the reply get all muscular and chest-beaty.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Maybe if I edited a website that focused on roads and bridges – how to build them, how to finance them, and where to get the asphalt from – then I would be cranky that the Treasurer and the Opposition leader didn’t specifically talk about roads.

Because the economy can’t function without roads, right?

But I write about the development and application of commercial technology. I write about the public policy that will help Australian entrepreneurs build successful Aussie tech companies employ people and build wealth.

I write about the challenges of disruptive technologies, and the giant opportunities that these challenges have given us. And of course I write about the political response – the policy response – from our leaders to those opportunities.

So yes. It is disappointing. Why is it asking too much to have these issues specifically addressed in big picture, mainstream speeches?

It really is a bit hopeless. These are not secondary issues, they are fundamental.

It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the digital economy.

People are genuinely fearful of the tech-based change and upheaval in the workplace. What’s wrong with having an honest conversation about it?

And what’s wrong with talking about the upside? And how we can best grab hold of the upside?

Instead we get Bill Shorten carrying on like a pork chop about millionaires and we get Scott Morrison’s pathetic – pathetic! – grab-bag of dog whistles that concluded his speech.

As if we needed reminding that we can be a narrow, tiny-minded nation when we are not at our best. We don’t. The performances this week show that we are not at our best.

Culture flows from the top. I used to write often that until we had a Prime Minister who talked loud and often and enthusiastically about technology and the Australian industry and of opportunity, then we would struggle to build interest and momentum in our local industry.

Well we had one for a short while. But he’s not talking about it anymore.

Here is some advice for our leaders, given freely.

To Malcolm Turnbull: Please start talking about this stuff again.

To Bill Shorten: People don’t become nurses because they hate millionaires.

To Scott Morrison: People aren’t inspired to study mathematics so they can build an algorithm to catch ‘welfare cheats’.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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