The Labor party will need to dramatically reforge its rhetoric around fostering innovation if it wants to snag votes from the tech sector at the July 2 double dissolution election.
At a round table event put on by business software company Oracle devoted to all things innovation, the Coalition and in particular its leader Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull scored all the love when the panel was asked which political party was best at fostering innovation.
“Right now it’s the Liberal National Party doing the most promotion in this space. It’s the only one that’s really speaking loudly,” said Chris Holmes, a panellist at the Oracle event and managing director of Single Cell, a local startup which produces Progenitor, a strategic procurement and contract management application delivered as a service.
Mr Holmes likes the Coalition’s startup focussed initiatives such as facilitating employee share option schemes and hopes the government will make it simpler and easier to access grants for innovation.
“The Turnbull government seems to be selling a better story, or at least started selling a better story before the Labor Party,” said Mr Holmes.
Oracle Australia regional managing director Tim Ebbeck credits the PM with putting innovation issues on Australia’s conversational map. Mr Ebbeck is an old tech industry hand who previously headed up German business software giant SAP here, and then spent time as chief commercial officer at NBN Co, where he was involved with then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s strategic review of the NBN following the Coalition’s election in 2013.
“I’ve got a very strong view on this. Leaving aside the party politics, Turnbull has actually brought about a change in thinking,” said Mr Ebbeck.
“He’s talking about this [innovation] as the highest possible policy area. I’m not sure how the policy framework gets implemented but you’ve got to be talking about his stuff as if it’s important.”
To give Turnbull his due as an innovation spruiker, he has been talking about it for a long time, both in opposition and government.
Turnbull has a pet stump speech that asks where the high paying jobs that both support Australia’s living standards and its welfare safety nets will come from as mining and manufacturing decline. I saw him deliver it one night while in opposition at a minor IT industry event, and he had the audience eating from the palm of his hand.
Mr Ebbeck echoes Turnbull’s stump sentiments. “Our days of digging holes are over. Are they coming back? Of course, we will be digging holes for a long time. But is that sustainable? Absolutely not.”
‘We’ve got innovation in our DNA here and we need to celebrate it a bit more.’
There is hope for Labor and its relationship with the tech sector according to Ross Dawson, futurist and CEO of the Future Exploration Network who was on the panel.
“What has been done by the Coalition government thus far has not quite matched the rhetoric that Turnbull espoused,” said Mr Dawson. “But the change of language has been absolutely fundamental. Everyone I have spoken to in the innovation world since we had a change of Prime Minister has said the attitude has changed.”
“While a lot more action still needs to happen the change in language has been transformative in the way people think in Australia.”
“It’s a black and white contrast to the rhetoric from our previous prime minister.”
Mr Dawson believes Turnbull’s elevation of innovation thinking has created political competition that Labor must respond to, in order to stay in the game.
“Labor must talk innovation up in a dramatic way, because without that they become the non-innovation party,” he said.
Panellist George Parthimos was more hard headed around the homages to Turnbull’s innovation rhetoric. Mr Parthimos is managing director of Connexion Media, an ASX listed outfit that creates smart car technology.
He wonders about measuring results and would like to see more goal oriented pronouncements from the government’s innovation agenda.
“Innovation is a great buzzword, it’s fantastic and it’s now on the radar but I would just love to see how you measure it.”