Not a good week for sector support

David Havyatt

With the Ministry sworn in and the Shadow Ministry appointed we complete the transition from an election period back to normal government. It is also the point at which the innovation sectors of the economy will realise they have more and different work to do.

The first piece of evidence comes from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party. Andrew Hastie in the west explained his problem trying to connect the campaign themes with a voter, said:

It was at that point I realised that a lot of what we were campaigning on nationally just wasn’t resonating with everyday Australians.

He couldn’t understand the reason for company tax cuts, he wasn’t earning enough to benefit from the increased tax thresholds and he wasn’t an innovator – he was just an everyday Australian who was trying to pay down his mortgage and look after his children and ensure they had a brighter future.

The Tasmanian fief-holder Eric Abetz not once, but twice, said:

The innovation and science aspect of the Coalition policy, which was always being put front and centre, did not necessarily resonate with the people of Tasmania, like it didn’t resonate in the seats of Macarthur, Lindsay, Eden-Monaro, Longman, Solomon and so on.

This should provide the base promoting innovation with a salutary lesson. It isn’t enough to convince policy makers of the value of your cause; you have to be able to convert it into widespread public support.

The moves in the Ministry are no real surprise. Chris Pyne has been moved to Minister for submarines. However, a close reading of the Defence Industry policy reveals a Coalition expectation that there will be plenty of innovation in defence.

This may be a belated recognition that so much of the ICT success in the US and Israel has been built on the back of defence expenditure. However, we can be sure that all Australian governments will second guess our domestic capability. An industry that two Defence Ministers ago couldn’t be trusted to build a canoe will not be given the funding needed to innovate.

In the core industry portfolio the new Minister Greg Hunt certainly adds grunt (who knew we liked rhyming slang?) However, the sparkling Parliamentary Secretaries (sorry, Assistant Ministers) for Industry and Science have been rolled into one. A young eager dude and the frontbench’s only scientist have been replaced by a former hotelier with qualifications in Finance.

Any hope that we might prise innovation out of the clutches of those who think of it as only an investment story might have been dashed. But you can’t judge a wine by the label!

But the Coalition is at least on safe ground; they will face no pressure from Labor. Their grunt has been placed in the hands of serial under-performer Kim Carr.

Way back in 2007 Carr was rewarded for backing Rudd against Beazley with the Industry portfolio. Rudd, ever the optimist and forward thinker, added “Innovation” to the title. Carr commissioned Terry Cutler to write a strategy document Venturous Australia. Nothing happened beyond that.

Senator Conroy was also punished for not supporting Rudd against Beazley and had IT stripped from the Communications portfolio, and it was handed to Carr in industry. There it has languished ever since.

Australia’s IT industry still gets a better hearing from Communications than it does in Industry.

So the last week hasn’t been a good one for the “innovation biz.” This was compounded by the ABS statistics that showed innovation went backward in 2014-15. This was the period bracketed by first Tony Abbott’s innovation statement and then Malcolm Turnbull’s. (Never has there been a more exciting time for writing innovation policy than the 44th Parliament).

The statistics reveal – unsurprisingly – that the nation’s innovation engine isn’t small business and start-ups. It is medium sized enterprises that do the heavy lifting.

Instead of covering the dropping of the Minister for Small Business from Cabinet by assuring us that all 23 members of the Cabinet were “Ministers for Small Business” it might have been good if the PM could have assured us that they were all Ministers for jobs, or growth, or – innovation.

It is going to be a long hard slog to get policy discussion on innovation for the next three years. Yet, it is the only thing that will take our GDP from where it is back to where we want it to be.

It is time for the hard slog of policy – not magic incantations.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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