PM Turnbull – Innovation’s Messiah or Just a Very Naughty Boy?

This may be the least wise, least prudent post I have ever made. I’ve typed, and deleted, and re-typed that headline I don’t know how many times, and reminded myself of my determination to stay away from big-P-Politics and my even more fervent desire for this blog to avoid the question of Faith, but I keep coming back to it. So I’m just going with it, and I’ll trust that you’ll stay with me through the thought whether you agree with or respect it, or not.

Because, admittedly unusually, I’m not trying to be smart with the header. I *was*, certainly, when I first thought of it, but it actually says everything I want to caution against in one, highly unoriginal, bordering-on-inaccurate line IF, and again I stress IF, you’ve seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian. If not, oops (and, seriously, see the whole thing, not just the YouTube clips: it’s a whole-thing-thing).

Malcolm Turnbull became Australia’s 29th Prime Minister this week. Malcolm Turnbull is, whatever you might think of his politics with or without a capital letter, someone who prizes and champions intelligence and the contribution it can and should make to our communities, economies, and country. Which is a good thing, particularly in a public figure.

He is also a man with plenty of opinions and who, generally, has been pretty good at expressing them, occasionally to the discomfiture of his colleagues in Parliament, regardless of where their seats may be. He was formerly the Minister for Communications, which portfolio includes one of the most talked about sagas of public infrastructure in (and for that matter, over) many a year, the National Broadcast Network, about which many people have plenty of opinions and frequently express them.

He was also, prior to Parliament and amongst other activities, an investment banker, and has maintained an interest (which, funnily enough, he has also been pretty good at expressing) in the tech sector, its prospects and its potential from a small to economy-bulwarking scale.

So perhaps it’s not all that surprising that, almost since the announcement of his standing against then-Prime Minister Abbott on Monday evening, the innovation industries have been doing their happy dance. Social and traditional media alike have been abuzz with delighted innovators since Tuesday morning calling – some bordering on demanding and others just expecting – for the restoration of all the science budget cuts and the dawning of a new age of the start-up.

To which I would like to say, everyone breathe. And again. And once more….

It would be reasonable to expect that Prime Minister Turnbull is going to be more positively minded toward science and innovation than was his predecessor. After all, Prime Minister Abbott wasn’t exactly bad at expressing his reservations about a range of science issues. But there is a big difference between being an informed advocate of policies and positions that, whilst not exactly government policy, are not contrary to that of one’s Cabinet colleagues, and being the face of those Cabinet colleagues.

Not to mention, as the National Party has been doing that enough for everyone since Monday night, that while Malcolm Turnbull may have been elected leader of the Liberal Party, it’s actually a Coalition Government (also known as the “We’re Right Here You Know” response).

Restoring the cuts to public sector innovation budgets won’t solve many of the problems with our National Innovation System which, if one recalls, wasn’t exactly perfect when the cuts were made. Money won’t solve the problems of low industry-research collaboration rates, relatively low return on public investment in innovation, or the limited career paths for Australian researchers who want some certainty in their lives.

For the individuals affected by those cuts – and I know plenty of them – this may seem heresy for one supposedly servicing the innovation sector. And I get it, believe me – everything, literally everything, in my business comes out of my pocket, so I know having more resources would give scope and security without which it is even harder to do good work.

But merchant bankers aren’t known for maintaining the status quo when they can get greater success from strategic action.

And sometimes having a reputation for saying things that sound right, maybe even are right, can get one mistaken for having all the answers and being able to save the world. And we all know how that can end up…. just ask Brian.

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