What does it say about this government’s attitude to science and technology that the Prime Minister ‘buries’ his two most controversial Cabinet members by giving them tech-heavy portfolios, regardless of their suitability for the roles?
Controversies surrounding two of the government’s most senior Cabinet ministers – Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds – prompted an unscheduled Cabinet reshuffle. Both are currently on medical leave from the Parliament.
Short of grabbing a shovel and digging an actual hole, where would you bury such controversy and the ministers attached to it?
If you are Scott Morrison, a Prime Minister who has de-emphasised technology in the national consciousness, you put them into two of Cabinet’s tech-heavy portfolios.
It’s not quite a hole in the ground, but it will do the job.
It’s a shame that tech and innovation are really not a part of this government’s internal conversations. The tech industry will not be happy about these personnel changes. As if the industry needed to be told, the changes send a clear signal about the low-priority of tech.
Formerly high-flying Attorney-General Christian Porter is facing historical rape allegations – which he has denied – and is fighting a related defamation case against the ABC. He has been a lightening rod for anger among women the past month.
So naturally he has been moved to the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio, where he can take advantage of the low-profile the portfolio enjoys in the Morrison Government.
Outgoing Industry Minister Karen Andrews brought some much-needed stability to the Industry portfolio. When she was appointed as minister in 2018, she was the sixth in the portfolio since the Coalition won government in 2013. Christian Porter is now the seventh.
The Industry portfolio is low-profile in this government. That is the reality. It is not the fault of Mrs Andrews (who got a massive promotion in the reshuffle to lead the Home Affairs mega-portfolio) it has simply been a low priority for this government.
If it were not a low-priority, Scott Morrison would not have given the portfolio to Christian Porter. The tech industry will not welcome this at all. And for all the companies that have invited Mrs Andrews to tour their offices or cut ribbons or launch products, you will now get to enjoy Mr Porters’ company.
Linda Reynolds has been given the nerd portfolio as Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, taking over from Stuart Robert (the new Employment, Workplace and Skills Minister).
The Government Services portfolio is all about digital service delivery in government. It is not so much low-profile as opaque. It is a primary driver of digital transformation in government and a re-imagining of how government works.
Senator Reynolds, who is currently on medical leave from the Parliament because of a heart condition, can quietly disappear into this portfolio.
It is far from clear what qualifies her for the role. She has never made any obvious displays of affection for the subject matter.
Maybe the local tech industry can look forward to her applying the same kind of keen eye for sovereign capability as is found in the Defence portfolio.
The tech industry will look at this reshuffle and say thanks for nothing.