PM declined to lead innovation recovery

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined a COVID-19 Commission recommendation to lead the innovation policies that would drive Australian industry’s economic recovery from the pandemic, according to the government adviser involved.

Andrew Liveris, an Australian businessman who advised the Obama and Trump administrations on manufacturing and innovation, was called in by the Prime Minister last year to develop an economic recovery strategy, acting as a special adviser to the COVID-19 Commission.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Naresh777 /

Mr Liveris developed what became known as the Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI), a $1.3 billion federal program offers large grants to manufacturers working in one of six national priority areas. Each area also has a long term technology roadmap designed to develop sovereign capability and a sustainable manufacturing industry.

The initiative has been led by the Coalition’s industry minister, a position which has already changed twice since Karen Andrews launched the MMI one year ago, including the latest switch which saw the industry and innovation portfolio split across two ministers.

Mr Morrison has controversially retained control of final approvals for most of the MMI grants and was part of the scheme’s announcement alongside then-industry minister Karen Andrews.

When the embattled Christian Porter took over the portfolio earlier this year, MMI announcements were made via written statements. The government has blocked attempts to release departmental briefing documents about the fund’s administration.

“We recommended in the manufacturing initiative, as part of the COVID Commission, that the ownership of [of innovation policy] should be at prime ministerial level,” Mr Liveris told InnovationAus.

“It is everywhere else — in Israel and Ireland and the UK. There is an innovation minister or Industry Minister equivalent but the Prime Minister takes accountability for it, and chairs the Innovation Council and owns it.”

The recommendation was not taken by the Prime Minister, Mr Liveris said, because in Australia the “the Cabinet runs the country and the Prime Minister steps back and orchestrates”.

The Prime Minister’s office did not respond to questions about the recommendation or leading innovation policy.

Mr Liveris said he understood the decision of Scott Morrison not to take the advice last year but believes the opportunity of the pandemic recovery and Australia’s need to diversify its economy warrants a reconsideration.

“I understand [not taking the recommendation] but if you’re talking about health supply chains, Defence supply chains, food supply chains, I think that’s a prime ministerial imperative,” Mr Liveris said.

“And I think, therefore, we can’t rely on imports of those goods from other countries. We’ve got to rebuild our supply chains. I think that should be a prime ministerial responsibility.”

An industry and innovation minister should still play a major role, Mr Liveris said, but the country’s leader should be at the forefront of an innovation led recovery to add more commitment and accountability.

“The whole nation should know it belongs to the Prime Minister. And that’s where I think maybe we just need to step it up and just do it that way,” he told InnovationAus.

On Wednesday at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce Innovation Summit, Mr Liveris reiterated his calls for national leadership on innovation policy and expanded on his desired approach.

Under his favoured model, the Prime Minister would also be the chief innovation minister and chair an “Innovation Council” authority similar to an economic development board made up of senior public and private sector leaders to drive a top down approach to policy.

“I’d make it 12 to 15 [members] in size so it’s not too unwieldy, and then that would be in the statutory authority. The group that would then steer the country’s five-year plan for innovation.”

Keeping innovation policy at arm’s length from the government of the day would allow longer term focus on targeted areas of strength, with results reported annually, Mr Liveris said during an AICC panel.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. Don Townsend 3 years ago

    My reaction is to look more broadly for understanding: our systems are failing, from within.
    Australia 1788 – 2080: Democracy’s Decency Deficit
    Democracy requires two factors to survive and prosper: decent leaders, and motivated voters.
    Due to the decency deficit, Australia has come to a nadir of trust in the system. Day by day, we squabble over trivia, and ignore the major issues, as if arguing in a primary schoolyard; and our neighbours come to regard us as a shrinking outlier of Western culture which now needs Asian brains, vitality and capital to maintain itself.
    Early leaders in the colonies were not decent: they had to be tough to tame the convict-settlers, the indigenous resistance, and the rapacious tendencies of hopeful settlers, squatters and investors. But the increasing need for governance, and wider and deeper public education and communications, brought forth more ethical leadership, concern for equality and a social contract based in laws. The high points were probably around 1912, and after two turbulent generations, around 1965.
    The last fifty years have shown us the erosion of ethics, truth and law in conditions of Luck, Distance, Prosperity, Privilege, Complacency , Advertising , and straight-out Plunder. We have become a ‘juvenile State’, more fearful and less able to fend for ourselves or contribute to neighbours, more willing to burden our children with the problems and the taxes, as the world becomes more complicated and intrusive.
    Leaders and officials have become fixated on the plundering of our Lucky Prosperity by means of the monopolising political and economic entities, who play ‘their way’ with the levers. They have cashed in Decency for the protection of selfish privilege in a stagnating system. Meanwhile – as in a dormitory of teenagers – the system is degraded through lack of the necessary hard work, learning, negotiation and commitment to supportive strategies, policies and responsibilities. Our escape is in sport, which consumes about 10 billion hours per year in playing, watching, viewing and discussing; and in shopping (with a 50% throwaway result).
    We have become “Canberra Question Time”, all the time. “The News” has become a rolling advertisement for a failing state. The Un-decent and the Un-ethical, enabled by the complacency and material mania of the juvenile majorities, and protected by the noise and mendacity of mercenary media, have blanked out the leaderly and the moral minority. Blind to the existential deficit of Decency, we have evolved to three strata: the Egals, the Torps, and the PiPi’s. (Egalitarians, Torpid hedonists, and Privileged Plunderers).
    We are the fading remains of an experiment in Westernisation ‘down under’ – we have not done enough with our Luck and Prosperity to ensure its existence beyond 300 years. We have become the ‘Afrikaaners’ being dissolved in a more vital ecosystem of Asia-Pacific.

  2. Phil Sandberg 3 years ago

    Outsource everything, do nothing, line donors’ pockets, weaken the country.

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