Newly promoted Labor MP Ed Husic says startups and innovation are at risk of falling off the government’s agenda following the tight election and Malcolm Turnbull’s ministerial reshuffle.
Husic, formerly a shadow parliamentary secretary assisting with startups, has been promoted to the shadow minister for employment services and workplace position as part of opposition leader Bill Shorten’s own reshuffle.
After the prolonged election, the loss of vocal startup advocate Wyatt Roy and the replacement of Christoper Pyne, Husic says the government is no longer focused on the startup sector.
“My concern is that I think some of the shine has come off and I’m worried longer-term about whether or not the same level of focus and intensity will be there for the startup sector in Australia,” Husic tells StartupSmart.
“That would be a pity and it would basically reinforce the concern I had last year.
“The thing about innovation is that it’s great whenever the attention is there but it still needs support when eyes turn elsewhere. That’s where I think we’re getting right now.”
The need for sustained bipartisanship
The federal member for Chifley says innovation policies require sustained bipartisan support in order to be effective.
“The problems that need fixing –skills and capital – can’t be fixed overnight,” Husic says.
“They need dedicated, sustained attention and we’re just on the cusp of whether that attention will remain, waver or completely disappear.
“It is important to be able to have a bipartisan approach on it. I’ve been critical that there were elements of the Turnbull government that only supported this in word and not in deed.”
Husic says the loss of assistant minister for innovation Wyatt Roy will also impact the government’s innovation agenda, and that the new Parliament needs to work together on these issues.
“The loss of Wyatt Roy is a big issue – he was genuinely committed to reaching across the aisle to work with us on this thing,” he says.
“Smarter, cannier players in the new parliament will recognise that if the two parties find common ground early on then there isn’t anything that can’t be achieved for this sector in the long term.”
Policies not parties
The overwhelming outpouring of support from the startup sector when Malcolm Turnbull took the top job has meant that the government has become complacent in this area, Husic says.
“The startup sector was so pleased to see Turnbull take the helm, and I can understand why they felt that way with Tony Abbott’s seeming indifference to the whole notion of innovation and startups,” he says.
“But there needs to be an evolution moving beyond that recognition to be a lot more wily about supporting policies not parties. They need to make parties work for their support.
“There’s a real risk that the startup sector’s support for the Turnbull government will be taken for granted. I don’t think that’s good long-term for the sector, it needs to be making the parties work for that support.”
Despite the move away from the innovation portfolio, Husic says he will be bringing a lot of the lessons he learnt from startups to his new role.
“I enjoyed massively the chance to interact with the Australian startup community and to build links overseas to see what people are doing with early-stage innovation,” he says.
“I might not be in a direct role but I’m not moving too far away from the Australian startup community.
“I like to say I’m a card-carrying member of the fan club and a lot of the things I picked up need to be carried over to my new role. I enjoyed massively the chance to interact with the Australian startup community and to build links overseas to see what people are doing with early-stage innovation.”
In his new role Husic says he will be directly addressing the impact of new technologies on Australian jobs.
“We’ve got two out of five jobs likely to be effected by tech and automation by 2030. I don’t think as a country we’ve got a game plan as to how to deal with that,” he says.
“I’m very aware of that challenge and bringing that focus to the new gig.”
Husic will be replaced as shadow parliamentary secretary for startups by Tim Hammond, with the pair previously campaigning together in startup hubs during the election.
“He’ll throw himself into this space and become a really strong advocate for the sector as well,” Husic says.
“I can just tell he’s going to be someone that will throw himself into the role with a great deal of energy.”