news Malcolm Turnbull has used his first brief comments as Australia’s 29th Prime Minister to emphasise that Australia is facing disruption driven by technology, and that the nation needs to work to take advantage of that trend rather than rejecting it.
The Member for Wentworth resigned as Communications Minister earlier today and captured the Liberal leadership from incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott with a vote of 54 for Turnbull and 44 for Abbott. Julie Bishop will remain by Turnbull’s side as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Foreign Minister.
In his first comments to a brief media conference in Parliament House in Canberra, Turnbull — technically the PM-elect until he is sworn in by the Governor-General — emphasised that he wanted the Australia of the future to be “agile, innovative and creative”.
Turnbull said that Australia needed to recognise that the disruption that was occuring driven by technological change was “our friend”, if the nation was agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. “There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today,” the PM-elect said. “There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.”
The Member for Wentworth said he wanted to ensure that all Australians understood that their Government recognised the opportunities of the future, and that the Government had the policies and the plans to take advantage of that.
Turnbull gave the examples of issues in his previous Communications portfolio — such as the NBN and the challenges facing Australia Post — as being situations where he had dealt with very big business problems, but communicated the issues facing those organisations.
The PM-elect’s speech tonight appeared to draw from a speech Turnbull gave last week at the launch of a cross-party Parliamentary Friends of the Internet group.
At the event, Turnbull said the pace of the transformation currently being driven by the Internet was “quite unprecedented”. “We’re living in the most exciting time in human history,” he added. “The pace of change, which is being ampified by the Internet, is extraordinary.”
At the event, Turnbull said the “big dividing line” in the political sector at the moment was not Labor versus Liberal but between those who were “afeared” of the future, and those who embraced it.
“Rupert Murdoch said once that the Internet will destroy more profitable businesses than it will create,” Turnbull added. “I don’t agree with him, [although] it’s probably true as far as his company is concerned — because it is a threat to the established order.”
Turnbull’s succession to the Prime Ministership comes as both major sides of politics have recently spent time wooing Australia’s technology startup sector.
Labor, for instance, has formed an internal policy and campaigning group focused around innovation and engaging with the tech startup sector, while the Coalition has recently passed legislation changing the taxation arrangements around employee share schemes — a key ask of the technology startup sector — as well as engaging with startups themselves.
Stirring words by Turnbull tonight, and it’s hard not to be inspired by a Prime Minister who talks about equipping Australia for the future, instead of constantly talking up coal mining and car manufacturing. In addition, it is true that Turnbull has had a long association with the technology startup sector.
However, as I wrote earlier today, our new Prime Minister-elect has not always been a friend to Australia’s technology sector. Australian technology startups — as with pretty much the rest of Australia’s tech sector — are broadly in favour of Labor’s original Fibre to the Premises model for the NBN, and have roundly criticised Turnbull’s radical reshaping of the project, with the new Multi-Technology Mix.
Then, too, Turnbull has not exactly covered himself with glory through his support for the controversial Data Retention, Internet piracy and even Internet filtering policies which have been a part of his portfolio over the past two years. The actions he has taken in these areas have been noted by Australia’s technology sector — and noted unfavourably.
If Turnbull is serious about building a stronger Australian economy focused on innovation, he will need to address this past behaviour, as well as starting to work directly on issues such as taxation reform, supporting Australia’s venture capital industry, committing to better broadband infrastructure, boosting our video game development industry, and more.
The previous Abbott administration has been weak on all of these fronts, drastically chopping funding from a range of areas associated with innovation and pumping cash into traditional sectors such as resources and manufacturing. Turnbull will have a long way to go before he can truly turn that trend around.
In addition, right now, Australia’s tech sector particularly knows Turnbull as the Minister who demolished Labor’s previous near-universal fibre NBN policy. If the Member for Wentworth wants to be known as the Prime Minister for innovation, that’s another item of stigma he will need to shake off.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull