The conversations we never have

James Riley
Editorial Director

Four days before the May 18 federal election, hosted Ed Husic at our offices in conjunction with StartupAus for a no-holds-barred question and answer session with a bunch of tech businesses and journos.

And the event was great. Mr Husic spent the time doing what he does very well, which is answering difficult and complex questions about technology, skills and the future of work, among many other things.

He stayed long after the formal conclusion of proceedings, as he always does. He answered every question journalists had for him, he met as many people as possible, and engaged in many private conversations about these important issues.

Mr Husic is by far the best spokesman on the social and economic impact of technology in the Parliament, regardless of which side of politics.

What a shocking indictment on all of us that at this time in history, when the rate of technology-driven change is truly accelerating, that we lose our most articulate and most interested leader.

Anthony Albanese has come across as a stuffed shirt this week. For a guy who goes on about working people, he seemed pretty cavalier about losing the guy who has been leading the national discussion on skills and future of work. The lack of fight was extraordinary.

If you can’t get your best people on to your frontbench when you have just been elected unopposed, it’s hard to see when you would. Lamenting the loss of Ed Husic while lauding his abilities afterwards just made the Opposition leader look a bit silly frankly.

But of course, we are not allowed to have serious conversations about these things in Australia anymore. Just ask Malcolm Turnbull. Or Wyatt Roy.

For the record, the Q&A with Ed Husic prior to the election was an entirely bipartisan affair, even if only one side of politics showed up.

We had invited no fewer than five MPs or senators from the Coalition to participate. No takers.

Even taking into account the weirdness of elections, the Coalition no-show speaks volumes for the taboo nature of tech in the government.

And for those startup people cheering for Arthur Sinodinos to be returned to the industry portfolio, he had no interest. Perhaps he was not allowed to participate. Either way, it’s not a good look.

At the 2016 federal election, we had hosted (again with StartupAus) a debate between the then assistant minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor and Ed Husic, who was a shadow assistant minister for digital innovation and startups.

Well, clearly we are not allowed to talk about any of this stuff anymore. Don’t talk about AI or machine learning in any serious way, don’t talk about job dislocation (let alone job opportunities).

Don’t talk about building new Australian industries, don’t talk about weightless exports. And don’t talk about skills, or the possibility that we might need to make provisions to retrain sections of our workforce.

And as Ed Husic might tell you (and Andrew Leigh, too, probably) talking seriously about the future of the economy in anything but an Australian orthodox way is career-limiting.

Ed Husic has been a Lone Ranger in speaking publicly and often about these issues.

Other parliamentarians, if they are discussing the impact of tech and the future of work at all, are doing it behind closed doors. This is certainly the Coalition’s preferred model for engagement on these issues, if not much of Labor as well.

The problem with the behind-closed-doors stuff, in addition to favoring Big Tech and their whisperers, is that it does not bring the rest of the community into discussions.

To lead a community discussion you must first be a leader. Ed Husic already is a leader in this important policy area, and yet he has just been lost to the backbench.

Nice one, Albo.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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