Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment as prime minister and the announcement of a “cabinet for the future” gives Australia a “once in a generation” opportunity to become a more innovative nation, SquarePeg Capital co-founder Paul Bassat says.
Turnbull announced an extensive cabinet reshuffle yesterday afternoon, which included a Minister for Innovation for the first time, and new ministers for communication and small business.
The new PM again emphasised the importance of science, innovation and new technologies in his government and policies.
“Today I’m announcing a 21st century government and a ministry for the future,” Turnbull said.
“We have to work more agilely, more innovatively and we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us.
“We are not looking to proof ourselves against the future; we are seeking to embrace it.”
Former education minister Christopher Pyne has been appointed as the new minister for industry, innovation and science, a position that didn’t exist in the Abbott government.
Strong startup advocate Wyatt Roy will be the assistant minister for innovation, making him the youngest ever federal frontbencher.
Bruce Billson will be replaced as small business minister by Kelly O’Dwyer, while Mitch Fifield will be taking on Turnbull’s old role as communications minister.
Reshuffle reactions from the startup community
Prominent members of the Australian startup community have reacted positively to the reshuffle, with many viewing it as an important first step in following through with the rhetoric used in Turnbull’s acceptance speech last week.
StartupAUS CEO Peter Bradd says he welcomes the cabinet reshuffle.
“There is a passionate and experienced team in place to deliver on Turnbull’s opening promises around innovation and our future economy,” Bradd says.
“It’s reassuring to see technology entrepreneurship and innovation move into its rightful place as one of the most important agendas for this government.”
SquarePeg’s Paul Bassat says that it is “very exciting” news.
“We have a prime minister that’s got a focus on the area, but is equally very knowledgeable about the area,” he says.
“That’s really exciting in terms of what it means for innovation. The announcement of the ministry is really consistent with that.”
He says this leads to a “once in a generation” opportunity for Australia.
“That level of passion for technology and level of knowledge is a rare combination in a leader of a country,” Bassat says. “Good policy isn’t going to guarantee that we become a better and stronger tech ecosystem, but it’s an important enabler for that.”
Changing the weather
Director of the Centre for Business Growth Dr Jana Matthews says having political figureheads acknowledge the importance of startups is very important.
“Leaders make the weather,” Matthews says. “If they are positive and optimistic about the future, employees and citizens become more confident and willing to take risks. If they are fearful and negative about the future, people react accordingly.”
“This leadership team is being led by a prime minister who has a technology background, understands that technology can enable current companies to be more efficient, and new ones to be formed and grown.”
Tech entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge Steve Baxter says it’s important to wait and see what policies are implemented.
“The real key now is to make sure we see the development and implementation of a consistent national innovation policy that provides strong support for the innovation and startup community,” he says.
“A consistent policy combined with a supportive regulatory and taxation regime will take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity currently before Australia to boost our entrepreneurial and startup activity.”
Innovation brought into the ministry
As he announced the host of changes, Turnbull put much focus on Pyne’s new role and its direct relation to startups and innovation.
“Christopher is going to be at the centre, as is the whole government, of one of our most important agendas,” Turnbull said. “If we want to remain a prosperous first world economy, with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive and above all we must be more innovative.”
“Christopher’s department will drive the government’s focus on investing in science, promoting STEM education, supporting startups and bringing together innovation initiatives right across government.”
In a statement, Pyne says it is a “great honour” to be taking on this new role.
“With a sweeping tide of new disruptive technologies that will entirely transform the way we live and the way we work, Australian industry must continue to lead the world in research and innovation, ensuring our nation can seize the opportunities ahead,” Pyne says.
“We have the technical capacity and capability to remain a nation with industries that offer the jobs of the 21st century.”
Leaders in the startup community have welcomed Pyne’s new position, pointing to his support for STEM education during his time as education minister.
“Pyne has already made some important progress in the STEM area in his role as minister for education by formally introducing coding into the Australian curriculum,” Baxter says.
“This is an important milestone and shows Australian ministers are starting to embrace the pipeline approach necessary for Australia to not just survive but thrive in the innovation space.”
Wyatt Roy steps up
Tech enthusiast Wyatt Roy has been appointed as the assistant minister for innovation, a move that has been lauded by the Australian startup community.
Roy has already acted as an “important bridge” between the startup community and government this year, Baxter says.
“He’s also one of the few federal politicians who has spent real time amongst the startup community,” he says. “It’s clear he understands the startup ecosystem and what needs to be done to support it.”
Matthews agrees, saying it’s important that politicians understand and embrace startups.
“I’m encouraged to see two ministers appointed who understand the importance of innovation,” she says.
“The choice of Wyatt Roy means someone who understands the shifts taking place in our global economy will have an opportunity to shape public policy for Australia.”
Following in Turnbull’s footsteps
Senator Mitch Fifield will be taking on Turnbull’s former role as communications minister.
Australia Computer Society acting CEO Kim Finch says she is “looking forward” to working with him to help build Australia’s “digital capability”.
“Senator Fifield will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role, which will help navigate digital policy through a sometimes challenging political process,” she says.
Research and business collaboration
While announcing the changes, Turnbull also signalled an increased focus on assisting the collaboration between research and business, something which the startup community has been saying is a major issue for some time now.
“We do a lot of things great. We do a lot of great research and development. We do a lot of great science,” Turnbull said.
“One of the things we do not do well at all is the collaboration between primary research, typically in universities, and business. We are actually the second worst in the OECD.
“That is a very important priority to make a change to that.”
A lot of this is down to changing the culture surrounding this, Turnbull said.
“It’s really important for leaders, PMs, MPs and people in the media to talk about the importance of change, to talk about the importance of science, to talk about the importance of technology.”
Echoing some of his comments made during the acceptance speech, Turnbull again played up the important of startups and disruption in Australia’s economic future.
“We are living in the 21st century. We are living in a world that has been transformed in a very short period of time by science,” Turnbull said.
“Many, if not most of the largest and most transformative businesses in the world today – if they were humans they would still be in school, many of them still at primary school.
“We have to be a government, and we will be a government, for the future.”
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