Wyatt pays a high price for work

James Riley
Editorial Director

We will leave the reading of the tea leaves on the likelihood of a hung parliament to others. But it does seem clear that the Coalition has lost its Assistant Minister for Innovation in the 2016 election.

The youngest person ever elected to the Federal Parliament in 2010 (he was 20 years old at the time), Wyatt Roy has paid a high price for leading the national agenda on the sharp end of disruptive innovation.

Mr Roy was the high-profile face of many of the policy changes that have been so welcomed by the the startup community, but which is still misunderstood by large swathes of the electorate. Or perhaps they understand it too well, and don’t like what’s coming down the pipe.

Wyatt Roy: One of the hgh-profile casualties of the 2016 Federal election

We have assumed through this campaign that the messaging around the ‘opportunities’ presented by disruptive innovation must be polling badly, because it hardly figured in the campaign.

The reality is that the opportunity for one part of the electorate is a bitter challenge for other parts – and that many voters are frankly scared for their jobs.

Wyatt is an incredibly effective politician and has been a very smart, and very effective in his portfolio. His youth and confidence troubled many people. So of course he had to be torn down, because this is the Australian way.

Certainly this was evident on Twitter – that most unkind of social platforms – as the election returns came in for Wyatt’s seat of Longman.

He will be missed by the startup end of the innovation community, and others. There are lots of lessons here, not least of which is that a great deal more attention needs to be put toward bringing people along with policy.

Spending $28 million on an #IdeasBoom campaign was not enough, clearly. It needed to be sold by the policy-makers at a retail level. There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian, for sure. But for many Australian voters, the transitioning economy has made it a frightening time indeed.

If the Turnbull Government is able to cobble together enough seats to form government – whether in its own right or with the help of others – where will it find a new Assistant Minister for Innovation at short notice? (And yes, this is not yet certain. But those are the tea leaves for others.)

A quick ring around has brought up some names. Some seem straight-forward, others from left field.

Local Measure chief executive Jonathan Barouch laments the loss of Wyatt to the industry, saying he had done excellent work in the short time since he was appointed as an Assistant Minister last September. He wants the role filled by someone who will bring the same level of specific focus.

Paul Fletcher would be a good choice, given he has long experience in the tech community before entering the parliament, and the fact that he previously filled the role in a junior capacity under Malcolm Turnbull in the Communications portfolio in the Abbott Ministry.

This might be difficult, given Mr Fletcher is now a Minister (albeit in the outer ministry), covering Major Projects, Territories and Local Government. But it’s not out of the question, and Mr Fletcher is well known to the industry.

But Jonathan Barouch also points to a lesser known MP first elected in 2013, David Coleman, who had a long career in a variety of digital roles before entering Parliament. Mr Coleman is an ex-McKinsey executive, spent time at the Australian search engine pioneer LookSmart and then the early ecommerce success story dStore.

He also held a variety of roles at PBL Media and the Nine Network, including time as director of strategy and digital.

Another name that was being put forward for people contacted by InnovationAus.com on Sunday was the current Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister on Digital Transformation and Cities, Angus Taylor.

This makes a lot of sense, although from an administrative point of view might look strange. Mr Taylor is an assistant minister in the Prime Minister & Cabinet portfolio, where he oversees the Digital Transformation Office and open data (both neat fits for the Innovation portfolio.)

There is no particular reason why he could not report through two Ministers. Mr Taylor had been widely tipped to get a promotion at some point post-election. Adding to his existing responsibilities would have this effect.

Certainly the current Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne needs the help in this specific area of disruptive technology. No one argues Mr Pynes enthusiasm for the innovation end of the portfolio, but it is not his home turf.

I would argue also that Arthur Sinodinos could be a near term option to take the innovation responsibilities. It’s not like the Cabinet Secretary has a lot of spare time on his hands, but he is said to be very familiar with the needs of the sector, and an enthusiastic advocate within government.

And this is where some sources were circumspect. Wyatt Roy had been so strong as a singularly focused advocate in the startup space that there is concern that this focus would be lost if the responsibilities were merely added to someone else’s duties.

Another name that came up is Trent Zimmerman, who was elected recently to the seat of North Sydney, vacated when Joe Hockey left the parliament. It seems a long-shot, and a big ask for someone so new to the game. But he is said to have done some good work on ecosystem projects in North Sydney.

All of this is hypothetical. Until we know the final count, there is nothing known for sure.

There is a lot to look forward to. Advocacy group StartupAus issued a statement yesterday pointed to the largely bipartisan support for the sector – and hoped that the common ground would lead to continued leadership from the Commonwealth on these issues.

“Whatever its final shape, it’s clear this parliament will need to find areas of broad common consensus,” said StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley. “Startups and innovation are a core economic priority supported by both major parties as well as the greens and Nick Xenophon Team.”

“Our expectation is that an ambitious startup agenda will continue to be pursued by all the key players. In a difficult period, this can be an area of strength for this new parliament.”

Mr McCauley paid tribute to Wyatt Roy’s contribution: “As the Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt has made an enormous contribution to the conversation and the bipartisan policy framework around startups in Australia.”

“We are much further forwards in this country because of his efforts and advocacy.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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