Carr rump proves hard to move

James Riley
Editorial Director

Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s self-described ‘Dream Team’ of an expanded Shadow Ministry is a mixed bag for the tech industry. The elevation of Jim Chalmers to Finance and Michelle Rowland to Communications is the good news.

But the retention of Kim Carr in the Industry portfolio and the appointment of an untried and largely unknown new assistant minister in the form of the newly-elected Western Australian Tim Hammond is underwhelming.

Surely the digital, tech-enabled startup side of the innovation sector will be disappointed.

Senator Carr’s reputation is with the oily rag parts of the portfolio. And he has spent more energy on palliative care for industries in decline than many would like. The fact that his reappointment to the shadow industry role looks more like a political fix – the factional bunfight of last week is well documented – will rankle with some people.

Of course the appointment of any new shadow ministry is an exercise involving lots of mathematics. The political factions within Labor carve out positions based on numbers. And the state geographies must also be catered to.

Kim Carr’s reappointment comes outside of this algorithmic process. But Tim Hammond’s fortunes are a direct result of it. Labor had been decimated in the west at the 2013 election. Its success in 2016, however, means it has an additional place.

Normally a quick read of any MP’s maiden speech to the Parliament provides a cheat-sheet understanding of that parliamentarian’s interests and priorities. Mr Hammond has not yet given a maiden speech, so – like the rest of the industry who have been relying this weekend on Wikipedia and LinkedIn, we’re flying blind.

Based on this, we can tell you Mr Hammond is a barrister from Perth (albeit, according to colleagues, a well-regarded candidate, and now MP and assistant minister.) Given the demonstrated limitations of the portfolio minister, the industry will hope that he is a fast learner.

Specifically, he has been appointed to the assistant minister roles for Digital Innovation and Startups, as well as for Innovation. He is also assistant minister for resources and Western Australia. Like I say, we hope he is a quick study.

But this is a shadow ministry, after all. They won’t be running the show. Unless Bill Shorten is correct in his somewhat optimistic prediction that we may have another election by the end of the year, Mr Hammond will have time to get to know the lay of the land.

So, to the other big changes on the Opposition frontbench that is of interest to our industry.

The well-regarded Jason Clare has moved from the Communication portfolio to both shadow minister for Resources and Northern Australia – of marginal interest to us here – but also the shadow minister for Trade and Investment.

Mr Clare operated in a communications portfolio that had been starved of oxygen by the Prime Minister (and included stripping it of the interesting stuff related to digital transformation in government and data).

But while Labor kept its powder dry in relation to its NBN policy until the campaign was announced, Mr Clare was very effective in laying out the deep problems of government broadband policy, and the delivery shortcomings of the NBN Company.

In Trade and Investment the industry will watch with interest how the Labor frames its focus in Asia, particularly in relation to trade in services and the better engagement for the Australian tech sector. Its policy development on ASEAN in particular will be watched closely.

Michelle Rowland in the shadow Communications role will be welcomed. She is well-known to the industry. She was a communications law specialist before entering parliament.

Ms Rowland is a member of the western Sydney cabal of Labor MPs – which includes Mr Clare and Ed Husic – who are passionate about bringing the positive elements of technological change to improve the lives of a broader set of Australian.

Jim Chalmers to the key role of shadow Finance Minister will be welcome. Mr Chalmers, a former chief of staff to Treasurer Wayne Swan, is (clearly) a rising star, and well-versed on the economic transformational issue of most interest to our industry. It is a huge step up, but he is strong potential advocate for innovation ambitions (the doctorate in economics probably helps.)

The well-liked Ed Husic has been promoted to the Labor frontbench, a deserved reward for work in his previous role as shadow parliamentary secretary for digital innovation and startups – as well as an excellent campaign where he was especially strong in advocating innovation opportunities for regional Australia.

Mr Husic is in the shadow outer ministry, taking on employment services and workforce participation. The tech-enabled startup sector will be sorry to see him move portfolios. But his promotion is good for our industry.

Speaking to Mr Husic over the weekend, it is clear he will take his advocacy for glass-half-full thinking on technological change to the new role. It gives the industry another senior voice on the opposition frontbench.

And he sees plenty of cross-over in the portfolio, pointing specifically to Labor’s National Digital Workforce Strategy – a policy area where the government has been under-cooked – as something to build on.

Regardless of portfolio, Mr Husic says his electorate responsibilities will keep him connected to the tech and innovation sectors. He is passionate about developing policy that drives inclusiveness – to make sure the benefits of technology change reach his people. Broadband, clearly, remains a huge issue.

Mr Husic is a friend to the industry, and that friendship transverses portfolios. (He is a big supporter of his successor, Tim Hammond, and says the Perth lawyer has both an interest in our sector and the firepower to make a difference.)

There are a couple of other appointments worth noting.

Linda Burney, the first indigenous woman elected to the federal parliament, has lengthy political experience through the NSW parliament and moved to the outer ministry with the Human Services portfolio. This is a huge role, not least because it is undergoing massive technological change. Just the technology is a huge role.

Victorian MP Clare O’Neil joins the frontbench as shadow minister for Justice. She is a Fullbright scholar, did her Master degree at Harvard. She is ex-McKinsey & Co, understands our sector and is certainly someone our industry should be getting to know.

Gai Brodtmann has been given cyber security and defence personnel. But one area where the shadow ministry looks under-done is opposite Chris Pyne’s new Defence Industry portfolio. It’s been given great weight by Malcolm Turnbull, and you would think it might have deserved a more direct response.

Everyone will have their own views on Bill Shorten’s shadow ministry appointments. For me, it has taken a low-road toward renewal. There are missed opportunities to bring smart young thinkers into more senior positions.

The standout for me is Tim Watts. It is disappointing that he has was not promoted. He is perhaps a victim of the numbers game. Victoria did not perform well for Labor. But Tim Watts, who is well known to many in the Communications sector in particular, is someone our broader industry should be engaging with now.

He has a big brain, and a big future in the parliament. Without wishing to be mean, this is more than can be said for the re-appointed shadow Industry Minister.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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