Malcolm Turnbull’s StartCon address was part wholesome, part savage, part cringe-worthy

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Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at the 199th Birthday lunch for the Westpac Banking Group in 2016. Source: AAP/Dean Lewins.

Malcolm Turnbull has declared the slow pace of women studying computer science and engineering is a “big conundrum” facing Australia.

Speaking at StartCon 2019 on Friday in Sydney, the former Australian prime minister said that more money needs to be put behind promoting women in STEM.

He added that Australia is not alone in facing this — referencing a conversation he recently had with Sheryl Sandberg, who told him that female university numbers in these fields have also been slowing down in Silicon Valley.

Turnbull also spoke about the lack of diversity in politics during his Q&A with Matt Barrie (including in the Labor Party), stating that when he joined the Liberal Party in 1993, it was “much more diverse than it is today”.

“When political parties get more estranged from people, then you get policies that are out of step … and there are plenty of examples of that in recent times.”

He especially noted the rise of “career politicians”.

“Career politicians think, ‘what is the most politically saleable thing I can come up with that will get people to vote for me?’”

And on his predecessor Scott Morrison, he said he doesn’t have the same level of background and enthusiasm for innovation as he did.

Turnbull also defended his record on the NBN, saying he “inherited a mess” and had to make the best of it.

During his prepared speech, Turnbull spoke passionately about innovation.

“Denying change and the importance of innovation is like denying climate change. It’s denying reality,” he said.

“There are people who exploit fear of change in every environment and this rise of populism and protectionism is a feature of that.”

He said a big problem in government and elsewhere is the fear of undertaking something new, due to the fear of it not being successful.

“The biggest asset, the most important asset is all of you,” Turnbull told the crowd.

“Government policies are critically important. But ultimately our best assets are not underground, they are walking on top it … It’s your commitment. That commitment is what is driving our economy.”

“Literally nothing less than the future of this country depends on you,” he said.

This piece was first published on Women’s Agenda.

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