It’s new Minister for Startups time. All the time.
Remember the good old days when Australia had an Assistant Minister for Innovation? I’m not sure they actually were good days, but I remember hearing the incoming Turnbull cabinet was going to adopt some elements of lean startup ideation (at least, the rapid test-and-learn cycle) and I was excited that it might be possible to achieve legislative change in something less than a four year parliamentary term.
Then, it all went to shit pretty quickly. The startup industry copped the blame for the blowback from a massive advertising campaign none of us actually needed, wanted or had any say in planning. Assistant Minister Wyatt Roy, a smart, motivated and intelligent guy, copped it in the neck. Nobody who saw what they did to Roy would want to pick up his chalice in a hurry. It became an unpopular posting, not a reward.
One of the hallmarks of tech disruption has been an acceleration in the rate of change, and nowhere more so than in who represents the tech industry in Federal government. There has been a Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science in Australian Federal Government since 1928. Most people in the role lasted less than a full four year term but Hawke minister John Button held the role for more than a decade and a few who’ve held the position were there for more than five years. Such continuity! Such depth of knowledge and networks of contacts they must have developed!
In the Turnbull administration we have had no fewer than two Assistant Ministers and four Ministers in three years. After a while I think they stopped issuing them with new business cards; they just gave them a rubber stamp with the new title on it.
In December last year the role was rolled up into the Department of Jobs and Small Business. In other words, we then basked in whatever leftover attention remained after addressing the national issues around unemployment and meeting the needs of all the nation’s small businesses.
Now, in a Morrison government determined to present a “new generation” (and yet with Peter Dutton still in Cabinet) we will be represented by Michaelia Cash, as Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education. At least we no longer have unemployment to compete with (now the domain of Kelly O’Dwyer).
But calling the portfolio “Small and Family Business” sounds a bit like the new cabinet imagines everything that’s not a bank, airline, telco or resources is a corner shop, with a friendly greengrocer, who’s somehow survived the ravages of Wesfarmers and Woolworths to employ his immediate family in serving you fresh bread, legs of lamb and milk in bottles. As if this were the 1950s. Which, when you consider recent progress on addressing the pressing issues around diversity and inclusion, immigration, education, health, welfare and the environment in the past ten years, seems to be the goal.
Here’s what I know about the Hon Michaelia Cash so far: she has shown up. She’s been the most available LNP politician I’ve seen in the past five years when it comes to having a pollie attend the kick-off of a program with women, science, technology or entrepreneurship. She’s taken the time to be briefed on who many of the key players are in the startup community, and she’s consulted with some of them. She can name some of her favourite Aussie startup founders, particularly female founders. I wouldn’t say she’s been deep in consultation and I couldn’t speculate whether she’s going to go into bat aggressively on our behalf, but still, in the past few years, has anybody in government? No.
Does she have the support from cabinet to advance the issues and concerns we have as an industry? I don’t think so, not yet. We’re still carrying the blame for the failed innovation nation advertising campaign that ran ad nauseum prior to Turnbull’s first federal election. In LNP terms she’s a moderate, and she’s a woman, probably the two most limiting burdens to take into this latest cabinet given it’s the angry right of the party which caused the spill and that still hasn’t been satisfied by seeing its own man appointed PM.
Anyway, Federal government policy to support the innovation industries isn’t my highest priority right now either. It concerns me much more that Australia’s going backwards on renewable energy, carbon emissions, immigration policy, saving the Great Barrier Reef and doing something meaningful to reduce the impact of current and future droughts. I’m of a mind to take one for the nation and put the interests of our industry on the back burner until we can get the country back, if not on an even keel, then at least on the same uneven keel for longer than a few tacks upwind.