For a very short while, the Innovation Department’s funding of lobbyist StartupAus was the dumbest thing to happen during the election campaign last week that was related to the tech and innovation sector.
And then of course, the Australian Federal Police raided the homes of Labor staffers and the office of a former Cabinet minister and Opposition frontbencher in relation to NBN leaks, which put all the rest of the dumbness in the shade.
I am pretty confident that both sides of politics would agree with this assessment.
The AFP raids – and the nature of the NBN leaks – have received blanket coverage as you would expect. But the braindead box-ticking of the StartupAus funding has not been given due attention.
StartupSmart’s Denholm Sadler was all over it this week with great coverage. And you have to admire Ed Husic for pointing out the bleeding obvious – that there are conflicts of interest in this funding. And that the taxpayer funding of a lobbyist makes no sense.
StartupAus is not an industry association. It has no members. It is a lobbyist firm.
It is not the “peak advocacy group” for startups, as it has frequently and mischievously claimed, because it is not a group.
The fact that StartupAus has declined to open itself to membership, or to make its opaque policy processes more transparent, has been a source of great frustration to other industry stakeholders.
It is seen by many as a proxy for other interests, most notably its original sponsor, Google.
Others say it does a good job highlighting industry issues, even if it is not particularly representative.
Regardless, StartupAus is already well-funded and well-supported. Why does it should feel the need to ask for hand-outs from taxpayers?
The funding, which is worth up to $360,000 over three years, is being dressed up as research. It will be paid $120,000 a year to produce a couple of reports, on themes (it has to be said) have been studied to death.
Industry Minister Chris Pyne and Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy issued a statement saying “the research would help to ensure that future policy decisions effectively supported entrepreneurship.” Honestly. What a joke.
So here’s the thing. It could be logically argued that the commissioning a couple of over-priced reports is no different from exactly the same as commissioning the Business Council of Australia, or the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to write a report in their area of expertise.
Or that it is no different from commissioning Deloitte or PwC or KPMG or any number of other consulting houses that government routinely spends millions of dollars with to write an expert report.
Except that the BCA and ACCI are industry groups – they actually represent a constituency of members who have input into the workings and policy positions of the groups.
Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and the rest are for-profit businesses. Of course they produce reports for money.
For the record: The first two themes that StartupAus has been commissioned are “Culture and Entrepreneurship” and “International Analysis of Entrepreneurial Programmes” – as if neither of these topics have been looked at previously.
This is a waste of money. It’s ‘only’ $360,000 of taxpayer money I suppose. But it’s not a good look for an government that is supposed to be all about fiscal responsibility.
Ed Husic is right to suggest he’ll look at rescinding the funding should Labor be elected.
StartupAus was contacted by InnovationAus.com for comment, but did not respond to email.