Whatever bipartisan support there has been for innovation policy will be delivered with a sharper edge in the next parliament, according to Labor digital innovation and startups spokesman Ed Husic.
The tighter numbers on the floor of the House should deliver better legislation, but only if government is prepared to work more closely with Labor on legislative development for the sector.
“I don’t believe for a minute some of the handwringing we’ve seen in the past week from elements of the startup sector who worried that a tighter parliament is a bad thing for the industry,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.
“If anything, this parliament being tighter as it is, should force the government to work better with us.”
“It will force the Coalition to play a game smarter, and to wake up and realise that they have an active partner in us – the Labor Party – in making sure that we get the framework right for early stage innovation,” he said.
“I am ringing the bell here, saying the Coalition cannot bank on receiving automatic support [on innovation issues] from Labor.”
Mr Husic blamed the Coalition for failing to get long-awaited equity crowdfunding legislation passed before the last parliament was prorogued, saying the government had taken it support for the measures for granted and had not consulted on the design of the legislation.
“We did not automatically support them on equity crowdfunding because they did not take a bipartisan approach. That’s why the law did not go through,” he said, adding that the legislation had problems that could have been sorted out earlier in the process.
Without a more open consultation on issues directed at the innovation sector, Labor has effectively withdrawn any pretence of automatic bipartisan support, to the extent that this is ever the case.
Tech and startup industry groups should similarly take a harder position in offering support for government, Mr Husic said.
The industry had been largely taken for granted by the Turnbull Government once its National Innovation and Science Agenda had been applauded all-round last December.
“The startup community really needs to recognise is that they gave the government a hell of a lot of support when Turnbull first came in, and they were very vocal in that support,” Mr Husic said.
“My view is that the Turnbull Government picked that support up, put it in the top pocket and then moved on to other things. They thought they had already banked the support of the startup community,” he said.
“I actually think the startup community needs to play things differently. They need to show that they will support the policies – not parties – that they think will support the development of the startup community in this country.
“And they need to make sure that the Turnbull Government has to work for the support of the startup community. Because as much as there were elements that the Turnbull Government said they were bipartisan on, in reality they weren’t.
“They just rolled out their legislation without talking to the Opposition and without bringing people on board. And you saw the flaws in the legislation being exposed as a result.
Mr Husic has been vocal during the election campaign on the need for better strategies for making innovation policy more inclusive of the wider population. He says Australia “can’t walk away from” the need to implement policies that drive innovation activity, despite this having a likely ‘disruptive’ impact on sections of the broader community.
“The question now is how we bring the public along. The debate [about innovation policy] has been too disconnected from the public,” he said.
“It has been something that has been white-hot within the circles of supporter that want to see innovation flourish in this country, but within the general public’s mind, it is still a bit of a nebulous concept.”
“The pressure is on all of the players in the political space to show how the innovation sector can help the economy in the longer term.”
“This can’t just be a debate about making spivs richer. If we do that, we will undermine a broader public interest in innovation. The rest of the community will just see it as a ‘get-rich-quickly’ pathway for a select group of individuals.”
“That’s not really going to be helpful to the cause.”
Labor says the Turnbull Government has been “completely rudderless” on the issue of digital skills, and on upskilling Australian wage and salary earners.
“In times past during [economic] restructures, we have seen some people falling out of the job market, never to return. And we should be able to learn from the past and be thinking ahead,” Mr Husic said. “But clearly that won’t be happening now, because the government has no plan for this.
“We are not going to get there with feet of clay. We have to be planning for this. We can’t give up on those people. We need to find a way to get them secure, long term work.”