Surprise! A new year, new minister

James Riley
Editorial Director

Congratulations Australia, you’ve been given a brand new Industry Minister! Yes, it’s your fourth industry minister in the past year and a half, but still – it’s exciting! And he will most definitely arrive loaded with bona fide bold ideas and initiatives!

And so it goes. No matter how minor the reshuffle, the Industry portfolio ends up with a new minister. This one just six months after Greg Hunt had been appointed to the role.

For those keeping track, you should jot down for the record that Arthur Sinodinos is the Turnbull Government’s new Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

Mr Hunt has been moved to the Health and Sport portfolio, a position that opened up through former minister Sussan Ley’s expense claim imbroglio. The changes have resulted in one less woman in Cabinet.

Craig Laundy retains his role as Assistant Minister within Industry, although how his responsibilities might change with the incoming Senator Sinodinos is anyone’s guess.

It is a great shame that the portfolio has become a revolving door. It is surprising too, given it is the portfolio responsible for one of Malcolm Turnbull’s signature policies – the National Science and Innovation Agenda (NISA).

I mean, really. It’s careless and disruptive (and not in a good way.) And it confuses an already muddy narrative on innovation and startups and industry policy.

This is not a commentary on Arthur Sinodinos’ suitability for the role.

He might just be an inspired choice. Certainly he has shown more interest in startups and infotech innovation than any of his predecessors.

And of course he has storied credentials as an overseer of public administration (through his decade as John Howard’s chief of staff.)

But this is where the narrative gets murky.

When Malcolm Turnbull forced the leadership spill that gave him the Prime Ministership, Ian ‘Chainsaw’ Macfarlane was the Industry Minister. Mr Macfarlane was considered a fine minister, but moreso by the extraction industries than anything to do with StartupLand or tech. It just wasn’t his area.

He was replaced in the first Turnbull Minister by Christopher Pyne. This seemed an odd choice at the time. But given that the Prime Minister was spending so much time personally talking about startups and innovation and NISA – and the fact Wyatt Roy had been appointed specifically to ride herd on this stuff – it was a moot point.

Then the 2016 election. The near-death experience. Suddenly no-one wants to talk about startups and innovation. Greg Hunt is appointed industry minister and spends the first three months reframing the innovation narrative to include 1.0 industries like manufacturing, the agricultural sector, SMEs and regional Australia.

Now that Mr Hunt has been shuffled off, the tech industry is looking forward to the latest memo on how the portfolio is going to run and where its priorities lay.

The appointment of Senator Sinodinos is not terrible news for the info tech and startup sectors. He is well known to many, and he will be welcomed by most. He is both more interested and has a better understanding of the tech influences across the economy than most.

But for those in the industry who have invested time and effort in building a relationship with Greg Hunt’s office, there will be a natural feeling of having been dudded.

The opposition will have good fun with this appointment, and have already painted a target on the Senator. Even Senator Carr – who usually needs things explained to him – is congratulating Senator Sinodinos on his appointment, having a merry old time.

As always, we shall wait and see. But as the revolving door seems to be spinning ever faster, we hope Senator Sinodinos can find a way to slow it down.

We wish him well, and look forward to long tenure in his new role. No more changes please.

If the Industry portfolio needs anything right now, it is continuity and consistency.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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