James Riley
September 19, 2015

Tech sector needs a cold shower

Tech sector needs a cold shower

Tin ear: Tony Abbott's planned tour of Silicon Valley was supposed to build tech industry relationships

Our new Prime Minister is being publicly attacked by sections of the technology sector for postponing a trade delegation to Silicon Valley that was due to start just 10 days after taking the reins from Tony Abbott.

The criticism started within 48 hours of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister. This was before he had access to his office, let alone had time to get his feet under the desk.

The Australian startup sector really are a shouty bunch. It is hard to imagine what it would take for the whingeing to stop. Clearly having their preferred candidate unexpectedly take over the running of the Australian Government on a well-articulated technology and innovation agenda is not enough.

Honestly. Everyone needs to take a cold shower.

So let’s take a look at this latest failing of our policy leaders that has offended people. Michael Sainsbury wrote for this website (and Mitchell Bingemann for The Australian) that the previous Prime Minister had been scheduled to lead a small delegation of tech and business leaders to Silicon Valley.

The trip was to have been a whirlwind tour of some the valley’s biggest success stories, a stop-over on the PM’s planned visit to a UN meeting. It was to have been Mr Abbott’s introduction to the entrepreneurial tech sector (and vice versa). Too late, as it turned out.

The tour was being organised by Mr Abbott’s office on the quiet. Other ministers were also to have joined the delegation (The Australian reported Small Business Minister Bruce Bilson and Education Minister Chris Pyne were to have accompanied Mr Abbott, and Treasurer Joe Hockey was a possibility), but Mr Turnbull had neither been told a delegation was being organised, nor invited to join it.

So that’s the starting point, where a startup ‘leader’ backgrounds The Australian saying it would somehow be an “embarrassment” if he didn’t go through with Mr Abbott’s Prime Ministerial commitment.

To be clear, the new Prime Minster was being attacked for not immediately committing to leading a delegation that he had nothing to do with organising, had not been invited to attend, and indeed had not been advised that such a mission was even being undertaken.

The cherry-on-top is that the sledging was made anonymously. How very courageous! The arrogance of this kind of behaviour really needs to be called out for what it is.

If the startup sector wants to be treated with the respect it clearly believes it deserves, it needs to engage constructively and with an appropriate tone. A strategy based on chucking rocks anonymously is helpful to no-one.

Malcolm Turnbull has made the right noises since he took the leadership less than a week ago. He has also demonstrated over an extended period that he is a leader who understands the broad needs of the tech industry.

But get a grip, please. Trying to publicly embarrass a new Prime Minister is unthinking and counterproductive.

Mr Abbott’s planned trip to Silicon Valley was the strategy of former PMO staff desperate to reset the government’s economic narrative, but hamstrung by a Prime Minister with no interest, no understanding and few relationships with the sector.

Mr Turnbull has already done more to reset the public’s thinking about the opportunities presented by innovation in the opening statement of his first press conference last Monday night than Mr Abbott’s planned Silicon Valley trade delegation could have hoped to achieve. He has moved the needle.

For Mr Turnbull, who is very familiar with Silicon Valley and has deep, long-standing relationships with tech leaders from various different parts of the world, such a delegation to California is not a priority right now.

It is understood the Prime Minister has left open the possibility of leading a delegation to the valley at a later date, when it makes more sense for him to do so.

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