In a cabinet reshuffle on Sunday afternoon, newly installed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull took the opportunity to drastically alter the existing line-up of government ministers, portfolios and personalities on his front bench. As a result, and partly due to Turnbull’s own interest and extensive history in the digital economy, Australia’s current parliament now has a greatly renewed focus on technology, the internet and innovation.
Front of mind in the reshuffle was the question of who would get Turnbull’s old job as communications minister after he resigned to lead a coup against incumbent PM Tony Abbott; Victorian senator Mitch Fifield now has responsibility for the rollout of the National Broadband Network and its (relatively) new multi-technology mix, which abandoned the concept of a primarily fibre-based network for one using a combination of hybrid fibre-coaxial, fibre, and existing copper infrastructure.
Senator Fifield also takes responsibility for the arts ministry, which has been rolled into communications, and will be minister assisting Turnbull on digital government, including the new Digital Transformation Office.
Christopher Pyne has moved from education to another Turnbull focus area — he is the new minister for industry, innovation and science. Australia famously went without a science minister under the 2013 Abbott government, until the role was brought under the ministry of industry and the purview of Ian Macfarlane MP in a late 2014 reshuffle.
Pyne’s role will oversee organisations like the CSIRO and other research-focused teams that develop new technologies to benefit and make money for government. According to Pyne: “We have the researchers, the universities, the institutions such as CSIRO, Questacon and others who are world leading. We have cooperative research centres and industry growth centres and a very wide range of collaborative ventures around the globe. We have a major agenda in the commercialisation of research outcomes.”
Rising Liberal party star and Australia’s youngest MP Wyatt Roy will also become Australia’s youngest assistant minister — a role previously referred to as a parliamentary secretary — in helping Pyne shoulder the burden of the innovation portfolio. The 25-year-old MP Roy is regarded as a strong advocate for startups, both through promoting targeted higher education and through attracting new money to Australia from venture capitalists and angel investors.
The multiple moves are part of Turnbull’s push for a “21st century” government and a “ministry for the future”, aimed at refocusing Australian politics’ attention on cutting-edge technology and positioning Australia as a powerful force within the region and around the world for high-tech jobs, skills and innovative companies and start-ups.
Said Turnbull: “If we want to remain a prosperous, first-world economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive, above all we must be more innovative. We’re not seeking to proof ourselves against the future: we are seeking to embrace it. And this is a Government and a ministry that has that as its focus.”
You can watch Turnbull’s announcement of his new front bench below, thanks to ABC News: