Christian Porter’s resignation from the Industry portfolio has been met with criticism and frustration across the Australian technology sector, which will now be working with its eighth minister in as many years.
Several groups are now urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to replace Mr Porter with a senior minister able to provide an effective voice to cabinet and willing to stay long term in the portfolio.
On Sunday, Mr Porter resigned as Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, moving to the backbench amid controversy about his acceptance of an anonymous donation to pay legal fees in a defamation case.
His resignation was accepted by Mr Morrison, who, shortly before leaving for the US, announced current Energy Minister Angus Taylor will now also be acting Industry Minister.
Industry groups have expressed disappointment in another change in minister, while parts of the technology sector have chided the ongoing instability.
AirTree cofounder Daniel Petre said for nearly a decade the Industry portfolio had not been treated with the importance it deserved as an economy building tool.
“Here’s arguably the most important cabinet role other than Treasury, and we can’t keep a competent minister in there for any [effective] period of time.
“Whoever gets it wants to get the f–k out of there as quickly as they can,” Mr Petre told InnovationAus.
A foundation board member at the Industry Department’s Innovation and Science Australia, Mr Petre said the Industry portfolio deserved the “best and brightest” leadership.
“Why has it been consistently given to people who are arguably second or third rung in terms of hierarchy?
“It does speak volumes about how this government thinks about innovation and industry and the long-term impact of innovation through policy,” he said.
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) chief executive Ron Gauci said the industry was disappointed that the portfolio had undergone “disruptive changes”.
“We hope that the Prime Minister looks at the portfolio and the importance of the portfolio to the overall economy and selects a Minister that’s going to be appropriate,” he told InnovationAus.
The AIIA was able to hold several meetings with Mr Porter and he was “very receptive” to industry voices, Mr Gauci said. But with him lasting fewer than six months, the digital technology group wants more stability and for Mr Porter’s replacement to be a respected voice in cabinet.
“We’re calling on the Prime Minister and his office to truly consider the impact that the tech industry has on the overall economy and appoint a Minister that is going to be committed long term to not only the growth of our industry but the contribution our industry makes to the many others.”
Shadow minister for industry and innovation Ed Husic said Mr Porter had been ineffective and uninterested in the portfolio.
“[It’s] a time when we’re trying to rebuild sovereign capability, reduce our dependence on global supply chains, rebuild the economy, strengthen jobs and make sure regional areas of the economy have a chance to be part of the national effort to rebuild manufacturing, and we’ve had Christian Porter go,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.
“He was there for 170 days and he didn’t do much. Industry wouldn’t talk to him, he had two bits of legislation he was responsible for and he didn’t even show up [to Parliament] for those.”
Mr Husic said the Prime Minister deserved blame for appointing Mr Porter to a critical portfolio with doubts he could retain it.
“Australian industry, Australian business and Australian workers deserve better than this half-hearted commitment to a sector that’s going to mean so much to the economy longer-term,” he said.
Australian Investment Council (AIC) chief executive Yasser El-Ansary said the economy was at a “turning point” and investors need stability to support the business and innovation sector with confidence.
“Investors are looking for long term certainty to the greatest extent possible,” he told InnovationAus.
“When you have frequent change in ministerial responsibility, it does throw open a question around the stability of policy.”
Mr El-Ansary said Industry policies had remained stable despite “significant churn” at the ministerial level, but a stable and respected voice would be welcome.
“I would love to see the Prime Minister take account of the significant change and turnover that has played through this portfolio in the past few years. And I’d like to see him make a decision around the next appointment to his portfolio with that in mind,” Mr El-Ansary told InnovationAus.
Labor is increasingly making the area a priority and offering relatively stable leadership, which the AIC chief said the Coalition must match.
“The Labor Party has made this area a high priority one, and it’s been a relatively stable set of responsibilities between one or two opposition frontbenchers over the years. That says a lot about the way they’re approaching it.”
In contrast, the Industry portfolio has become a job senior Coalition MPs do not want or want only temporarily to rebuild or further their political futures, according to Mr Petre.
He said Mr Porter had “nothing” to show for his brief tenure and he has “zero confidence” in acting Industry Minister Angus Taylor.
“There are severe ramifications with [Industry] not being centre stage and [not] having super competent people who are focused on and having a well-informed senior cabinet. Because you look at cabinet and from my understanding a lot of discussions around the tech sector in particular are pretty naive and uninformed,” Mr Petre said.
“Because there isn’t a senior minister on the inner cabinet basically explaining to these guys what’s actually going on.”
Asked if Mr Taylor would be a permanent replacement or at least hold the portfolio until the next election, the Prime Minister’s Office referred to Mr Morrison’s comment that he will have “more to say” when he returns to the country.
Sydney cyber firm Avertro’s chief executive Ian Yip said the appointment of Mr Porter under a “cloud of controversy” in March had not been especially welcomed by the local technology sector. He agreed the appointment was evidence of a disregard for the portfolio.
“It served as further evidence of the Prime Minister’s lack of support for our national innovation agenda,” Mr Yip said.
“Most will be glad to see the back of Christian Porter. This is an opportunity for Scott Morrison to finally show some semblance of evidence that he understands the critical place innovation holds for the future of Australia.”
The newly formed Tech Council of Australia declined to comment on the Mr Porter’s resignation or what it would mean for the local sector but highlighted the importance of policies to grow it.
“With the right investment, training and regulation – the tech sector will provide jobs, economic growth, and a pathway to secure employment for the next generation of Australian workers,” Tech Council chief executive Kate Pounder told InnovationAus.
“Over the next decade, it will be critical that our decision makers continue to implement policies that foster new business development in the tech sector so that our country can become a global leader in this dynamic and growing market.”
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.