The Coalition’s latest industry minister might talk tough about the power of the free market but political reality and the rise of populist parties like One Nation will soon see him adopt a less purist approach to policy.
So says veteran Laborite Senator Kim Carr, the shadow industry minister about Senator Arthur Sinodinos, the freshly-minted Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, who was sworn in on Tuesday.
Senator Carr has jumped on recent remarks made by Senator Sinodinos to the Australian Financial Review, that appeared to indicate a hard and dry slant to the way he would run his new portfolio.
Senator Sinodinos said he did not regret the Coalition decision to cease subsidising vehicle manufacture in Australia which saw GMH, Ford and Toyota quit the car making game here and cause substantial job losses in Victoria and South Australia.
“I haven’t heard consumers complaining about changes to the car market,” Senator Sinodinos said. “There is quite an array of cars for sale.”
In an interview with Innovationaus.com, Senator Carr continued the latest attack line on Senator Sinodinos, accusing him of being an industrial ‘grim reaper’.
Vehicle production is not a ‘dinosaur industry’ but a state-of-the-art process involving everything from advanced manufacturing techniques to silicon and software smarts, Senator Carr said.
“Instead of being the government’s advocate on advanced manufacturing and innovation and high skill jobs, Arthur at this point is seeking to position himself as the grim reaper.”
“That won’t last,” says Senator Carr.
“With the rise of One Nation and the splintering right wing parties it is quite clear the government will be under acute political pressure to respond to the loss of jobs in traditional blue collar areas.”
While Senator Carr pans Senator Sinodinos’ apparently hardline thinking on industry assistance matters, he believes practical reality will force I re-think, especially when the shock of job losses from the closure of vehicle manufacturing hit later this year.
“If Arthur is anything, he is certainly not an economic purist the way he makes out. He has a great interest in political science and he will understand the electoral dynamics of a policy position that essentially says let the market go where it must.”
“The industry minister is required to have an economy wide interest and he will be obliged to deal with the social dislocations that come.”
Senator Sinodinos is the fourth industry minister since the Coalition swept to power under Tony Abbott in September 2013.
From those heady days, the portfolio covering the Coalition’s approach to twenty-first century industry, science and innovation has see-sawed from the Neanderthal to the hipster and back to business as usual.
Abbott tried the paleo diet by eliminating the role of science minister at first, although science was tacked on to then industry minister Ian McFarlane’s portfolio a little over a year later.
After Abbott was clubbed by current PM Malcolm Turnbull, we saw the hipster approach with Turnbull, then Industry minister Christopher Pyne and the young Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy. They espoused all things innovative, nimble and agile, along with a bunch of policy initiatives in the 2015 Innovation Statement that gave a big lift to the startup sector.
Unfortunately for Wyatt Roy and the Coalition, the greater electorate didn’t get the agile thing. Mr Roy lost his seat in last year’s election and the government hung on to a majority by just one seat.
“Under Malcolm Turnbull the word innovation had to be used in every sentence irrespective of context,” says Senator Carr.
“There are some people that have a very narrow view of innovation to say it only applies to tech startups. That’s not very useful if you are looking at it as policy instrument that goes to meeting the living standards of the Australian people.
“You can’t just confine it to a small sector of the economy that develops new apps”
Then came Greg Hunt who sought to make the portfolio more electorally palatable by trying to widen the appeal of innovation to regional Australia and more traditional industry.
“Imitation is probably the most sincere form of flattery in this business, and he adopted a more Labor approach in response to a disastrous election result,” says Senator Carr.
“What Hunt tried to do was re-position the innovation debate to make it more inclusive.”
Senator Carr believes industry and innovation policy form a link to the political legitimacy of the state.
“Economies faced with the massive challenges of globalisation will produce winners and losers and if there is not a perception that the bulk of society is a winner then people will say the government is not meeting their requirements and this does not just apply in the US.”
Senator Carr said Labor innovation and industry policy was still the same as had been taken to the 2016 election.