Malcolm Turnbull has discovered a new font. The Abbott-Turnbull Government has discovered some new words. This much we can tell from the new innovation agenda.
But this week’s Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook will expose the myth of the Government’s innovation agenda, which is really just a whole lot of hokey-pokey: putting a bit in, putting back a bit of what was taken out and shaking around the rest.
I do applaud the Government’s realisation that its economic agenda was the fast path to irrelevance, insecurity and inequity. But more is needed to achieve the genuine national progress that every Australian seeks.
Whatever the font, there are some words that ought to be front and centre of any national innovation agenda.
I’ll list them, even if Mr Turnbull will not.
Manufacturing. What could be more pivotal to the success of an innovation agenda than the industries which pay for the training of so many STEM workers, invest in so many R&D projects, provide our links into so many global production chains, force us to constantly re-imagine and re-create what we do?
And what is the point of a ‘transformation’ that excludes the 900,000 men and women who work in manufacturing, who are entitled to a stake in the future we will need their help to build?
Their place in this agenda is under the heading of ‘previous initiatives’. In other words, they’re been left on the scrapheap of catastrophic Hockey-Abbott ideas. Mr Hockey’s going overseas. So are our manufacturing jobs. It’s time to remind this Government that our factories have to power the ideas.
Climate change. Why go to Paris and talk glibly of a ‘technological revolution’ if we don’t intend to be part of it? Why dance around the axe that still hangs over the national programs that underpin investment in renewable energy and clean technologies?
Education. It is admirable to invest in some programs that will extend the opportunities for some students, in some places, to get the decent STEM education that every child deserves. It would be even more admirable to fund schools decently, drop $100,000 degrees, and address the problems ‘The Fixer’ left in his previous role.
The NBN. We do have great potential in the digital economy. We also have a Turnbull patch on a clapped-out conservative approach that will lock out far too many regions and communities from the opportunities ahead. By all means, move government services on line if this will facilitate access for citizens and give local firms the chance to get their innovative technologies up and running through government contracts. But do it fairly and sustainably and we will get a much better result. And recognise that the new economy is bigger than digital, and digital is bigger than startups, and startups are bigger than inner-city entrepreneurs.
Malcolm Turnbull has a habit of avoiding the question and diverting critique. We cannot afford to develop national policy around the personal political sand-traps he’d clearly prefer to avoid.
In too many countries progress under the guise of innovation has profited the few and heightened the isolation and exclusion of those left behind.
That is not our national brand. It is not the Australian way of innovation. We need a national vision, for a national transformation, in which every Australian gets a share in the benefits of change. It ought to be great times – for all.
This opinion piece was first published in the New Matilda on Monday, 14 December 2015.