Stop the ride, I want to get off now

James Riley
Editorial Director

So here’s what has happened so far. On Sunday morning the Prime Minister called for an election to be held on July 2. It’s now Tuesday evening and I can’t take it anymore. Seriously, I had forgotten how tedious election campaigns are.

Suddenly all the politicians I want to talk to about innovation have disappeared. You can’t get them on the phone. Previously vocal members of the government have either been told to shut-up about innovation, or to stay at home and shut-up altogether.

The shutters have come down, the excruciating messages from both sides are so contrived and controlled you have to wonder at the robots in charge. Surely both sides have put an algorithm at the helm.

Bill Shorten: Seems pretty cranky really

For people who follow innovation policy and generally keep track of the bigger set-piece speeches, it’s weird. It’s Day Three and we are being driven mad.

Yes, I know we all need to get into the campaign’s rhythm. But frankly I don’t know anyone who will be able to put up with this until July 2 (least of all the candidates.)

There are not a lot of observations that can yet be made, beyond the obvious for anyone in the tech, startup and innovation sector who watched the Budget.

This is a government that built ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’ into its central narrative on the same evening Malcolm Turnbull was elected by the party to lead it. This government built a tower of expectation through its own early rhetoric, and laid foundational policy through its National Science and Innovation Agenda.

It approved a $28 million advertising camaign to talk up a good game. And then it vacated the field, leaving its #IdeasBoom to gently swing in the breeze.

Who knows where the central narrative now lies. Somewhere between getting stricter on superannuation contributions and a long term plan to reduce the corporate tax rate, I suppose.

You can only guess that focus groups are telling the strategists that the #IdeasBoom is not resonating with the broader electorate, because it all but disappeared from the budget as a theme.

To use the words of a recent Prime Minister, it was ‘passing strange’ that the Scott Morrison could not produce even a single shiny innovation bauble in his budget to add to the NISA Christmas-come-early.

The early election rhetoric has added nothing, beyond its promise of ‘jobs of the future’.

For Labor it has not been so different. To be fair, the government had stolen the march from Labor on innovation policy. Bill Shorten had announced a series of startup and education-led initiatives while Tony Abbott was still PM, and had built a stark competitive difference – but Malcolm Turnbull’s NISA had largely pilfered the momentum of those initiatives.

Bill Shorten didn’t bother much with innovation in his budget reply. He spent his energy is re-opening the class war (just two days after Scott Morrison declared a cessation of hostilities.)

It was left to the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen at the National Press Club on Tuesday – and Bowen really gets this stuff – to remind voters that Labor has been in the national innovation conversation too. (To be fair, Bill Shorten gets this stuff too. But someone has told him he cuts a more ripped silhouette posing as a class warrior.)

Mr Bowen outlined briefly the Labor embrace of coding in our schools, the plans to produce more STEM graduates, new funding for students who opt for a “startup year” instead of actual study, and better support of accelerators in the regions to help diversify the innovation effort.

The government is specifically not talking about the National Broadband Network, which may yet prove inconvenient, given that Labor has flagged it as a major election issue.

“You will hear plenty about our NBN plans during this election,” Mr Bowen told the Press Club with a kind of “watch the space” commitment, (and no, he says, he is not talking about “the expensive and slower Turnbull version.”)

And so here we are, in the first days of a long, long campaign.

I love Election Days. It is like a celebration of all the things we get right as a society. It’s the genuine expression of the electorate’s will for the nation.

No-one gets everything they want. But if we all get our say in the lead up to the poll, and in the casting of our individual votes, then we can be satisfied with the process. will be a robust commentator on this election, and we invite election comment from readers and potential contributors.

For those of us in the tech and innovation sector, this campaign will be incredibly tedious if we do not force the conversation toward the issues we hold as important.

I am open to ideas about how we achieve this. Please feel free to contact me directly.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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