What Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet reshuffle means for the tech sector

Education minister Christopher Pyne. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty.

Malcolm Turnbull – who Tony Abbott once described as virtually inventing the internet in Australia – says it’s a great time to be an Australian. Yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle is the first glimpse of what he actually hopes to achieve in the area.

Indeed there were many new faces and some new roles revealed yesterday. All the headlines went to Australia’s first ever female defence minister and first Indigenous frontbencher.

But we also learned of the replacement for Malcolm Turnbull as communications minister, Mitch Fifield, and a new role for Christopher Pyne – industry, innovation and science minister. Fifield will also be the minister “assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government”.

We know from Business Insider’s conversations with Aussie tech’s leading lights that there are high hopes for Turnbull’s prime ministership. The more than 20 entrepreneurs we spoke to were largely positive of the move, but there were some common themes: the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and some more government focus on the sector, possibly best outlined by Alec Lynch, CEO of DesignCrowd.com.au:

I would love to see government increase its focus on technology and innovation (perhaps a portfolio on innovation, technology and startups). I would love to see more investment into startups – whether that comes directly from the government or fostered by the government (perhaps through tax incentives for investment by super funds). Australia has all the talent and resources required to become a leader in tech and innovation and, in the last few years, Australia has been experiencing a boom in startups. This momentum and opportunity is something the government and its new leadership should seize.

In what may be a good sign, these were all issues directly highlighted by Malcolm Turnbull when he announced the cabinet reshuffle, and specifically when he talked about Christopher Pyne:

…Christopher’s department, the Ministry for Industry, Innovation and Science will drive the Government’s focus on investing in science; promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic education; supporting start-ups and bringing together innovation initiatives right across Government. He will continue as Leader of the Government in the House.

Incoming communications minister Mitch Fifield will have to deal with the contentious area of media sector reform, but he will also be overseeing the NBN rollout, and what he brings to this is a bit more opaque. Paul Fletcher, who was Malcolm Turnbull’s parliamentary secretary for communications, and who had industry experience as a director of Optus prior to joining parliament, has been overlooked and his position will not return. And Turnbull’s speech wasn’t exactly roaring with rhetoric or promise about how our new minister will bolster the NBN:

Senator the Honourable Mitch Fifield will be appointed Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts. He’ll oversee the transfer of the Arts portfolio to that Ministry to better align the funding and administration of support and incentives for our creative industries.

That’s it. No rousing vision for an infrastructure project that could prove the backbone of our digital future, and thanks to changes and delays is already more expensive, taking longer and will be slower than what other countries are installing. In fact, it doesn’t seem that the NBN was even mentioned once.

Still, with the former communications minister at the helm, there’s hope that the portfolio will attract more attention than ever. Here’s Brandon Evertz, CEO of Big Review TV:

In the past, the Prime Minister has expressed his own belief in the importance of programs that nurture young people’s technology skills and prepare them for the careers of tomorrow. I’m hopeful that our new Communications Minister will continue this fight to move beyond simply instructing students on how to use today’s technology and instead, focus on helping them create new technologies. It’s not about just basic computer literacy, but coding, design and development.

There’s an X-factor, too, in the appointment of Arthur Sinodinos to the role of cabinet secretary, giving him influence across the ministry. Sinodinos is a formidable operator and could be highly influential if he were to direct his attention to the themes of innovation and technology across the various portfolios.

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