New shadow innovation minister Clare O’Neil is set to continue Labor’s focus on digital skills and human capital in the technology policy debate.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Ms O’Neil, the Member for Hotham since 2013, would take the role of shadow minister for innovation, technology and the future of work as part of his new shadow ministry.
Ms O’Neil has a proven focus on the future of work, adapting the Australian economy for technological change and upskilling the population, co-authoring a book six years ago on the topic, among others.
Mr Albanese said Ms O’Neil will serve in the new role “with distinction”.
“She’s written books, done a lot of work about the future of work and where the Australian economy is going, and making sure that technology and innovation works for people, rather than the other way around,” Mr Albanese told the media on Sunday.
Ms O’Neil takes the reins from former digital economy shadow Ed Husic, acting as Labor spokesperson for technology and innovation issues.
Mr Husic stepped down from his role last week to make room for Kristina Keneally in the frontbench. He had been a vocal advocate for the tech sector in Parliament, addressing concerns relating to the encryption laws and pushing for a range of tech-friendly reforms, with a particular focus on upskilling and digital talent.
Ms O’Neil is now expected to continue this push in the new shadow ministry, with a particular focus on the future of work, while Mr Husic will continue to do so from the backbench.
Touching on the issues in her first speech in the House of Representatives in late 2013, Ms O’Neil said:
“Other countries exploit low wages or low export costs, but in Australia our source of advantage is our skilled population, our world-class infrastructure, our safe and lively cities and our culture of invention and scientific research. In all of these, government matters,” Ms O’Neil said.
“When I look to the future, what I actually see is a lot of opportunity. We are made to tackle what this next century will throw at us. We are a small country, nimble, fast and strong…we have a people who are open and willing to change, when they understand what is required and why it is necessary.”
Ms O’Neil penned Two Futures: Australia at a Critical Moment with Mr Watts in 2013. The book focuses on the best and worst ways Australia can look in 2040, specifically on how the country can respond to, and take advantage of, the digital revolution.
“We believe that good governments always have an eye on the future. The long term is where it’s at. Changing society takes time. That’s why we ran for Parliament: to be a part of that change. It’s the only thing that would possibly justify us spending at least 22 weeks a year away from our family,” they wrote.
The pair devoted a chapter to technological change, outlining plans to ensure Australian businesses become “revolutionaries rather than roadkill” and ensure the general public are supported through the coming change.
“Governments will need creatively to build an environment that enables Australians to enjoy the benefits of digital disruption,” they said.
In the book, Ms O’Neil made it clear that she is not a technological determinist.
“We don’t believe that technological innovation set our society on a single, unwavering path. We’ll see enormous technological innovation over the coming decades, but it will be our values and how they guide the decisions we make that will determine what our society looks like in 2040,” they wrote in the book.
“How Australia responds to the digital revolution depends on us as a community, not on what the tech geeks invent next. While technological change is inevitable, its consequences for our society are not.”
Ms O’Neil became the youngest female mayor in Australian history, taking the top job at the City of Greater Dandenong in 2004 when she was just 23 years old.
She also undertook a Master of Public Policy at Harvard University, and completed an internship at the New York Stock Exchange and worked as a policy adviser to the Office of the Commonwealth Treasurer in 2008.
She was endorsed as a late replacement to run for Hotham – Simon Crean’s old seat – in Melbourne’s south-east at the 2013 election and won the seat, retaining it in 2016 and 2019.
She served as shadow minister for financial services and justice under Bill Shorten and during the recent election campaign, and is often touted as a future frontbencher for the party.
She was also Labor’s spokesperson throughout the banking royal commission and led the party’s response to the final report.