The Opposition has accused Industry minister Christian Porter of neglecting his portfolio and doing the “bare minimum” after he failed to speak on two pieces of legislation in his portfolio in Parliament this week, including one implementing changes first recommended more than seven years ago.
On Monday, two industry-focused bills were debated and passed in the House of Representatives. One simply renamed the government’s advisory board to Industry Innovation and Science Australia, while another made a number of long-awaited reforms to Australia’s intellectual property (IP) framework.
But Mr Porter did not address Parliament on either of these pieces of legislation, which Labor used as an opportunity to criticise the Coalition’s broader approach to innovation focused policymaking.
Mr Porter did put out a press release soon after the IP legislation was passed, saying the reforms would improve confidence and certainty to invest in design innovation.
“We know Australia has some of the best and brightest minds, and this legislation will help ensure designers have the best protections when it comes to their designs,” Mr Porter said.
Shadow industry minister Ed Husic criticised his counterpart, who is in Canberra, for not addressing Parliament and for the long wait for IP reforms, which have been in the works since the government accepted the recommendations of an expert report in March 2016.
“By all appearances, the Industry minister does the bare minimum in his role – issuing the occasional media release prepared by his department or getting someone else to introduce and manage his own legislation in Parliament,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.
“When the Minister’s Designs Amendment Bill 2020 was finally being debated in the House of Representatives, Minister Porter didn’t even bother to show up and speak to his bill. He then issues an eleventh-hour media release after the bill passed minus any effort or help by him. It simply doesn’t cut it.
“It’s just more proof that [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison and Minister Porter are too distracted by politicking to care about rebuilding Australian industry or getting it through the pandemic.”
The IP amendments address a number of recommendations made by the former Advisory Council on IP (ACIP) in 2015, which the Coalition responded to and agreed to all but one in the following year.
A spokesperson for Mr Porter said the time between the government’s response to the AICP report and the legislation’s passage this week was spent ensuring there was balance between the rights of designers, third parties and the public.
“In the course of delivering these reforms, the government has consulted extensively to ensure the changes best improve confidence and certainty to invest in design innovation,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.
“Following the government response to the recommendations of the AICP in May 2016, the government was required to consider the form and mechanisms to give effect to recommendations, including through multiple stages of consultation.
“The better the preparation the more likely, as has been the case here, that the legislative reform is broadly supported and secures a swift passage through Parliament.”
The spokesperson did not respond to a question on why Mr Porter didn’t address Parliament on the two pieces of industry-focused legislation on Monday.
The reforms provide a 12-month “grace period” for designers to apply for protection for a design after making it public. Currently, IP rights are not available for designs that have already been made public.
Businesses that have purchased exclusive rights for a design will also now be able to bring about infringement action without needing to rely on the original owner, under the legislation. The bill also extends the existing innocent infringer defence so this is available any time after the design’s filing date.
These changes have been slated for nearly 10 years, Mr Husic said.
“In 2012, Labor kickstarted investigations into the effectiveness of the design system, with a final report provided to the Coalition in 2016. So why has it taken them five years to legislate protections for Australian designers?” he said.
“The amendment wasn’t even listed for debate in the Parliament until December last year and has sat on the notice paper for nine months.”
Mr Husic claimed these delays are indicative of the government’s approach to Industry policy.
“It just reflects the complacency, the she’ll-be-right attitude that’s become the hallmark of the Coalition in government. The pace of innovation might be quick on the world stage, but it’s certainly not reflected in anything the Coalition does when it comes to legislation or action with respect to innovation itself,” he said via video link in Parliament.
“Yet again we are seeing that only lip service is given to innovation by the Coalition. There is no structured, rigorous view about how innovation will be utilised for the sake of national priority, national action and national benefit. What we are seeing right now is yet another instance of delay applied by this government.”
Legislation adding the word “Industry” to the name of Innovation and Science Australia was also passed by the House on Monday.
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