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More than ever, we need bipartisan support to grow Australia’s digital economy

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By Jason Wyatt, Managing Director Marketplacer

The 2016 Australian federal election has left the country in a politically fragmented state. The Coalition has clung on to government by the barest of margins while Labor has clawed its way back into contention. We’ve also seen a raft of new faces elected to the Senate, which could spell further political upheaval for the country.

The July 2 election showed we’re no longer a nation with a comfortably settled, dare we say boring, political climate. In the past decade, we’ve experienced what seems to have been a revolving door prime ministership, as well as the hardening of attitudes along ideological grounds on many issues.

The idea of bipartisanship has taken something of a beating in this highly politicised environment. However, there’s one area in which there is the promise and potential for greater bipartisan action across the political spectrum – the desire to see Australia become an innovative nation with a growing tech sector and digital economy.

Both the major parties have made positive statements about the need to back big picture concepts like innovation and technology. Certain members from both sides of Parliament, as well as some Greens, have realised the importance of the issue and taken the lead in talking to business leaders about what needs to be done to make Australia competitive on the global stage.

Liberal MP Wyatt Roy lost his seat at this election but he was always willing to learn about the issues confronting startups and tech businesses. Roy was the Assistant Minister for Innovation in the Coalition government and he seemed to grasp the potential of Australia’s tech sector to drive growth and transformation of the economy.

As the shadow parliamentary secretary for digital innovation and startups, Labor MP Ed Husic was Roy’s counterpart on the parliamentary benches. He has been as equally supportive of the innovation and tech agenda as Roy, and the two actually worked quite well together at times to advance the cause, especially among their respective senior party colleagues.

Other politicians have also spoken about the need to ensure Australia does not fall behind the rest of the world when it comes to building an economy that will be able to tackle the coming challenges and opportunities presented by automation, the Internet of Things, blockchain technology, and the continual growth of online commerce.

That support needs to become a bipartisan platform which binds our national decision-makers, regardless of their political stripes. This support needs to go beyond whoever the current Prime Minister of the day might be and become a platform for both the major parties and others.

We need action on practical issues like R&D tax concessions for start-ups, director liability exemptions for tech startups, 457 visas, entrepreneur visas, and support for Australian companies to expand overseas.

We also badly need our politicians to sit down and sort out the mess that has been made of the NBN rollout. The NBN is an issue of nation-building importance and both sides of politics have to find a way to come together and rise above the politicking to get it resolved.

Issues like the NBN are too crucial to become bogged down in party politics. Australian businesses rely upon this infrastructure to not only go about our everyday business but also to plan for growth.

The Turnbull government has made a lot of the right noises about tech and innovation but its record is starting to wear a little thin. It has another opportunity to make good on those promises. Likewise, there were many positive things said by Labor in the lead up to the election that we can only hope will remain part of the opposition’s focus.

In the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty that rules Australian politics at the moment, it would be refreshing and inspiring to see an across the board commitment to putting tech and innovation at the forefront of our economy.

We have an opportunity in this country to transition from a 20th century economy into one that’s primed for the 21st century. We’re not lacking in brains, creativity or drive. What we do need, however, is the political will to coordinate these resources so they become the new engine room of our economy.

A bipartisan show of support for such a platform would go a long way to building our new economy, as well as modelling the type of cooperation across political divisions that could inspire progress in other areas too.


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