Industry politics just got weirder

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James Riley

Things just got significantly weirder for the new economy. And whatever perceived good that had been extended to the startup end of the innovation sector has now been reigned in tight.

The politics just got a lot harder. But the notion that the growing momentum in the sector will somehow grind to a halt is nonsense.

As the count looks this morning, the Turnbull Government seems likely to either be returned with the barest of margins or as a minority government with the help of a couple of cross-benchers.

The recriminations about the poor performance of the Coalition is in full swing. And innovation policy has featured heavily in these critiques.

The most valid criticism has been that too much attention had been given to the shiny startup stuff, and too much was being given away to the financing side of the startup equation. And the other side of that coin is that not enough attention had been paid to the engine-room of the economy among SMEs.

The government has paid a high price for this. This became clear as the electorates across Tasmania, western Sydney and Queensland that are most marginalised by the disruptive technologies began falling on election night.

But the criticism largely misses the point. The #ideasboom is supposed to be about cultural change across the whole economy. Cultural change is hard, it is frankly scary, and it takes time and great energy to set hold.

The #ideasboom announcement last December was delivered as a shock to the system. The $1.1 billion committed over the four years of the forward estimates was modest. But the message was pointed, as a reset of the political-economic agenda.

But this reset has barely begun. It is worth remembering that for the most part, ‘innovation’ policy has been a largely bipartisan affair (the great exception being on NBN policy), particularly around all the shiny startups at one end, and better commercial outcomes from ivory tower research at the other.

The election result will inevitably lead to changes in policy emphasis in the innovation space. I would expect politicians will spent less time talking about FinTech startups as policy proof-points, and more time talking about the social outcomes of innovation, wherever it comes from.

But don’t expect to see wholesale changes to innovation policy.

Here’s the thing. It’s not like those voters in Tasmania, western Sydney and Queensland don’t understand the notion of disruptive technologies. They understand it all too well. It is a threat.

The challenge for Malcolm Turnbull is to bring these voters into the tent. These voters want to know what’s in it for us.

A sheet metal worker in Lindsay knows they are not going to get instant opportunities as a UX designer or as a quant for a FinTech startup, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want that new economy opportunity for their children.

The more immediate issue for these people is keeping their job and pressing for a decent education for their kids.

This is the great challenge for Malcolm Turnbull assuming he is able to form government will be in delivering for these people. This will involve spending less time among the inner-city startups, and more time standing next to (and listening to) smart innovative SMEs, whether they are in western Sydney, Tasmania or Queensland.

These are the local employers that John Howard so successfully won over as Prime Minister, and there are one of the engines of the economy.

The National Broadband Network will need a complete rethink. That is a given. Mike Quigley’s intervention on NBN architecture and costs late in the campaign should be required reading for both sides of politics.

This should be a no-brainer. The NBN was a huge problem for Malcolm Turnbull during this campaign.

And the discussions about education need to move beyond the facile chants of STEM, STEM, STEM from every industry group in the country to a more pointed delivery timetable for building our own capability.

The reality is that the entire political landscape is significantly weirder than a week ago. But the system works. Messages have been delivered by the electorate to both sides of politics.

And minority government isn’t so scary. A lot can get done by a disciplined team.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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