Ed Husic on tech reactionaries

James Riley
Editorial Director

Populist micro-parties and the reactionary forces that tap into fears about new technology and its impact on employment will continue to grow if government does not start talking in plain language to the community about the challenges Australia faces.

Labor’s Ed Husic says the Turnbull Government’s retreat from its own innovation narrative has created a vacuum where political populists have thrived.

Mr Husic was last week appointed shadow minister for the digital economy, and also had ‘Future of Work’ added to his existing responsibilities as shadow minister for employment services and workforce participation.

Labor’s Ed Husic: Preparation for disruptive change is not all defence. We must prepare to take advantage of the change

His return to the political fray in the tech and innovation sectors will be welcomed by many, if only because he brings a sharper edge to the conversation about disruption.

By talking up the startup sector so forcefully and then retreating from that narrative so completely, the government had created uncertainty in the workplace, Mr Husic said.

The absence of any long-term plan for preparing for the impact of automation and disruption was frightening people.

“We are in a situation where businesses are concerned about the impact of automation and technology change on their own operations and employment. And we have union leaders who are concerned about its impact on jobs,” Mr Husic said.

“So business and the unions concerned about the future, but we have a political realm that is completely absent of any long term focus on issue, and that is a huge concern to a lot of people.”

For all the conversations about the challenges and opportunities of disruptive technologies, there is precious little said about how businesses and individuals can actually prepare for the massive changes that are coming down the pike.

He says government’s role is to gather the community, to bring people together to develop an understanding of the long-term strategic priorities on how to prepare for the coming disruptive change.

“We know that significant change is coming, and we need to help people prepare,” Mr Husic said.

“The big concern that I have is our unpreparedness for all of this – that there will be this short-term political knee-jerk that occurs when people are driven by fear that automation and technology are nothing but job killers,” he said.

“The truth is that this [change] will create as many jobs as it changes – but we need to prepare people for that.”

“And at the current rate we are no-where near ready for the disruptive challenges that are about to hit,” he said.

The problem with government having retreated from its innovation narrative is the vacuum it has created.

“Right now we are living through a reactionary phase that is in part driven by this retreat we have seen in relation to innovation.”

Micro-parties are appealing to people by saying they will stand up for the people’s whose jobs are disrupted – “but they never put forward anything that’s plausible or workable.”

“It’s really up to us [in mainstream politics] to provide credible answers,” he said. “We need a long term game plan for managing change.”

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