Who’s your M8? Hastie and Sharma in the mix for Industry portfolio

James Riley
Editorial Director

Opinion: Being the Minister for Industry is not a job for life. That’s not how our system of government works. But in the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison era, being Industry minister is not even a job for a year.

At least that’s according to the shadow industry spokesman Ed Husic, who has been making hay while the sun shines in the past couple of days. (The sun shining, in this case, being the resignation of a cabinet minister.)

The average tenure of a minister in the industry portfolio since the Coalition was elected in 2013 is 330 days, Mr Husic says, chiding the outgoing minister Christian Porter for failing to meet that benchmark (Mr Porter served just 173 days).

So, who is in the running to become Industry Minister Number Eight since 2013?

In the mix: Angus Taylor, Dave Sharma and Andrew Hastie.

I have spoken to A LOT of people on this very issue in the past 24 hours and let me tell you: There are A LOT of theories.

So let me entertain you.

For me, the most interesting suggestions are Western Australian MP Andrew Hastie and Sydney-based parliamentary rookie Dave Sharma.

In the political calculus, it could be useful to the Prime Minister to promote another West Australian to Cabinet as a direct swap for Mr Porter (also from WA). Mr Hastie is currently an assistant minister for Defence and is a former chair the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

With a new AUKUS alignment under its belt to drive a submarine-led industrial program, it might make sense for the Industry minister to have Defence credentials.

This would be a massive promotion for Mr Hastie, but he is likely knocking on that door. Sections of the tech industry – specifically the software companies – would be immediately alarmed. They are still cranky with Hastie and his role in the PJCIS over the so-called encryption laws.

There is even a suggestion that Mr Hastie gets the Defence Industry portfolio currently held by fellow West Australian Melissa Price (which gets him into Cabinet). But if that means Ms Price is then given the Industry portfolio, well, errm, I am not sure if that theory flies.

Dave Sharma is newly arrived in parliament, having been elected to Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs at the 2019 election.

While the Prime Minister has made it clear that he won’t promote any first term MPs or senators, it is the kind of rule that’s only unbreakable until there is an exception. And it is true that Dave Sharma has a very particular background that might make him interesting for the Industry portfolio.

He speaks the language of business fluently, and has many, many admirers from among the tech startup, VC, and science research sectors, getting to know the industry through his time as Ambassador to Israel, and in his time when he left DFAT for the private sector.

Certainly Dave Sharma knows what a successful tech ecosystem looks like, and he has invested time getting to know the local industry. That has got to count for something.

If we are calling out Parliamentary rookies, then NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has been exceptional, particularly in his work on the Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology (now called the Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre.) But he is unlikely to be the exception that breaks the rule.

Angus Taylor has been given ministerial responsibility for the Industry portfolio in an acting capacity. The Prime Minister’s office has declined to say how long that arrangement will last.

There are theories about this also.

One is that Angus Taylor keeps the “Industry” component of the portfolio – which fits well with the PMs messaging around finding technology solutions for emissions reduction, at a time when Australia will be sweating it out in Glasgow before the end of the year at the international Climate Summit.

The “Science and Technology” component of Christian Porter’s former ministerial responsibilities would then be handed to someone else. This would maybe open the door for a Dave Sharma.

What this theory does not factor in – and this is critical – is the seismic scale of the conniptions that Mike Cannon-Brookes would have when he found out Angus Taylor was the new Industry ministry. I advise a careful communications plan, with much crisis management training.

The other name that has been mentioned in dispatches in relation to the Industry portfolio is the current Employment minister Stuart Robert, which I deposit here without comment.

There is another theory, of course, which holds that Angus Taylor will keep responsibility for Christian Porter’s entire former workload until after the next election.

Christmas is coming. An election is coming. Who would want to take such a role, with no time to make your mark on it? Meaning we could be in for months more inertia.

Labor’s Ed Husic lays the blame for latest ministerial exit from the portfolio at Scott Morrison’s feet. It was quite simply a bad decision, and Australian industry is paying the price of six months of inaction.

“Morrison should be taking the lion’s share of the blame here for putting someone he knew wouldn’t be here long and paying lip service to the industry portfolio, and now he’s gearing up to appoint the eighth minister,” Mr Husic said.

“Australian industry, Australian business and Australian workers deserve better than this half-hearted commitment to a sector that’s going to mean so much to the economy longer-term.

“From our point-of-view industry is definitely a key portfolio – we see it as vital to modernising the economy and see innovation playing a role in sharpening up the way business operates and ensuring we remain globally competitive, and we can build jobs now and into the future.

“The Coalition pays lip service to the portfolio, their people don’t hang around very long and anything they do ends up being highly questionable or not delivering at all. It’s all big noise and big shambles,” Mr Husic said.

Editors note: A previous version of this story stated that Andrew Hastie is the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. This is not the case. While Mr Hastie previously chaired the PJCIS, its current chair is Senator James Paterson.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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