Greg Hunt has revealed much in the past week about how he intends to run the industry portfolio, opting to taking on more direct charge of the breadth of its responsibilities than his predecessor Chris Pyne.
As had been widely anticipated, Mr Hunt spent the week reframing government’s innovation narrative away from startups and more directly attributable to existing businesses and to the science side of the portfolio.
But this is hardly the beginning of a startup apocalypse. This seems more a recalibration of message. It is more about a re-emphasis of existing Australian industry and SMEs than it is a de-emphasis of the startups sector.
Speaking to InnovationAus.com during a visit to the Tyro FinTech Hub, Mr Hunt revealed the lines of demarcation between himself and his Assistant Minister Craig Laundy, making it clear he intends being hands-on on policy across industry, innovation and science.
Where the portfolio formerly had an Assistant Minister for Innovation in Wyatt Roy, and an Assistant Minister for Science in Karen Andrews, Mr Hunt will be driving policy formation and implementation across the whole portfolio.
The change has the effect, he says, of bringing science back into the Cabinet. It also wrests back the innovation policy settings, such that it will be now viewed an embedded part of Industry rather than as a startup sector outlier.
“I am going to have responsibility for the Industry side, for the Innovation settings – in particular the first, second and third waves of the National Innovation and Science Agenda – and I will also be the Science Minister. It’s very important that the minister of the day in science is a Cabinet.”
Craig Laundy has been given three main areas of responsibility. This first is to take the growing workload of the anti-dumping commission, managing both the reform process and the decision-making.
Secondly, Mr Laundy will take the lead in promoting innovation among existing small businesses. And thirdly he will take responsibility for some of the portfolio agencies – including IP Australia and the National Measurement Institute.
Mr Hunt has also clawed back the initiative for digital transformation, which – publicly at least – had been subsumed by the Digital Transformation Office. He outlined as his ‘third wave’ of innovation policy, being the simplification of interactions between business and government.
He is talking about the creation of single entry-points for business across local, state and federal jurisdictions.
If this sounds familiar, it is because this is a project the DTO has taken the lead on, albeit in collaboration with the Industry Department and the Australian Taxation Office.
Mr Hunt told InnovationAus.com that he has now written to all of the states and territories to offer to work on pilot projects to create “what I am calling single business entry points for general business approvals, licences and other activities.”
This is precisely where the DTO has been working through the alpha version of its Gov.AU project. The beta version is supposed to be delivered by the end of August.
It can be presumed now that this will now be a joint-announcement between Mr Hunt and the Prime Minister’s point man on digital transformation, Angus Taylor.
Mr Taylor has been talking lately about a reframing of the government’s digital transformation effort – and a restructure of the DTO’s engagement strategies, of not its program work – that reflects “less disruption, more collaboration.”
The emphasis, he says, must be on the change management programs that deliver long term benefit, not just on the front-end of digital transformation via UX improvements.
So while it was the DTO that announced the program of work related to business entry points, you can expect Mr Hunt to take the lead in unveiling its next stage in the next couple of weeks. Co-opting terminology from StartupLand, Mr Hunt says the program of work will “remove the friction” from business-government transactions.
“Obviously the DTO has been established and the Prime Minister – with his personal history and his passion [for technology and transformation] – is completely engaged in that,” Mr Hunt told InnovationAus.com.
“That’s about removing as many barriers as possible at the Federal level and making sure that our systems for engaging with government are a lot simpler.”
“What we want to do is to make sure that the whole process, whether you are engaging with federal state or local government, that it is simpler. We want to make sure that if you want to invest by creating a business, that you can do it easily and simply.”
Mr Hunt says it is misplaced to say that the startup sector is being de-emphasised. He says the opposite has occurred. Any increased focus from innovation policy on existing businesses was simply a means to rebalance government priorities.
The language is interesting. He told InnovationAus.com that ‘startups’ had created more than 1.4 million jobs in the past 10 years. This is simply not the case, unless you are defining any new business as a startup.
This is more likely the startup community co-opting the economic benefits of a healthy SME sector to their own lobbying. And it’s the new industry ministry trying to broaden the innovation message and to take some of the political sting out of perceived startup elitism.
The structural changes to the Industry portfolio are interesting, as are the changes to the external engagement narratives of the DTO.
But the reality is this is mainly about narrative, rather than the innovation policy substance. He made much of the fact that the first company he visited as minister was Dulux – a 100-year-old local company.
His first major speech as minister was to the science community, through the National Research and Innovation Alliance. He was out in front of the traditional industrial sector with a policy address in Port Pirie a few days later.
And then he capped the week with a quick visit to the Tyro FinTech Hub, before delivering his innovation policy speech to an AFR conference that was top-heavy with VC and tech entrepreneur interests.
The mainstream has been focused on the single line of his speech “Innovation is not just about startups or IT.” In the past 10 days everyone got a lolly.