Ideas Boom or Buzzword Bingo? Government speech is light on details

The pitfalls of sending a non-techie to a conference for tech journalists

She said, "SCRUM, SPRINT, ideation... words like these are being mainstreamed through the Digital Transformation Office and many areas of the public service." Source: Tambako the Jaguar, Flickr

She said, "SCRUM, SPRINT, ideation... words like these are being mainstreamed through the Digital Transformation Office and many areas of the public service." Source: Tambako the Jaguar, Flickr

Liberal Member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott gave a buzz-word laden speech to the Australian technology press on the importance of digital innovation but when it came to the actual detail, Scott refused to be drawn.

The purpose of the speech, delivered at the 2016 Tech Leaders conference in Leura was to layout “the Federal Government’s blueprint for transforming Australia’s economy into a national innovation and science centre in a digital context” and to promote the “Innovation Corridor” in Western Sydney where the government is investing in two new Pre-K-to-University STEM schools, incubator programs and research bodies.

“The National Innovation and Science agenda is estimated to have a $14 trillion impact on the country’s GDP by 2020”, said the Secretary for Coalition Policy Committee on Education, Small Business & Tourism.

“As industries become more data driven they take on new economic structures; the algorithms learn and get smarter and result in feedback loops. Facebook uses every customer interaction they have, thirsting to learn new information and provide a tailored experience based on the individual.”

Scott referenced companies like Uber and AirBNB as “classic examples of contemporary companies that have grown enormously quickly and made significant market disruption by collecting and using data.”

“...Words like SCRUM, SPRINT and ideation have long been around the tech sector for many, many years,” she said. “But words like these are being mainstreamed through the Digital Transformation Office and many areas of the public service.”

The government is investing $75 million into Data61, “the largest data innovation group in Australia” but in reality is the result of the merging of NICTA and the CSIRO.

“Data 61 will capitalise on data revenue by using data analytics to connect disparate government data sets and publicly release them on an open data platform,” Scott said.

“The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will deliver a public sector data skills program, in the vein that a huge body of data produced and held by the Australian Government is a national resource with vast potential to help grow the economy.”

“It can stimulate innovation, improve science service delivery and efficiencies across government and transform policy outcomes for the nation. Harnessing this public data will influence our capacity to compete in global digital data economy.”

Despite this, the minister could or would not say whether NBN data will be provided by Data 61 or any other government department.

“I’m here to talk about innovation and change in Western Sydney,” Ms Scott said. “If you wanted to frame the question that way then I’d be happy to answer it.”

I reframed: “How can we expect to properly innovate in Western Sydney or any other part of the country when the government won’t release data on the state of the network most of them will be using?”

“That is a question for the minister,” she said. “I am not the minister.”

IDG has contacted the minister, and the Digital Transformation Office as to whether NBN data will be included in the government’s open-data platform.

Spokesman for the Digital Transformation Office, Jane Speechley told IDG she thought the Open Data Program was no longer part of the DTO’s remit and had been moved to the Department of Finance. I am waiting on confirmation. The minister is yet to respond.

In any case, half of the suburbs under construction in Western Parramatta will be built with fibre, according to Ms Scott.

“Yes NBN is important but so is being able to move people around our city. It’s a matter of building sustainable cities that are liveable. That is the focus.”

Scott said that since 2013 “the Australian government has been pursuing an open data agenda to effectively manage this nation’s resources for the benefit of the Australian people”.

It’s disappointing the member for Lindsay does not recognise the importance of publishing data on the network which most Australian business will be using to “deliver new sources of growth, maintain high wage growth and see the next wave of economic prosperity”.

On the aging population Ms Scott had to be corrected by a member of the tech press when answering what the government would be doing to keep older workers in employment for longer.

“The last budget provided incentives for business to enable people to stay in the workforce,” Scott said, only to be corrected by Stephen Withers who said that actually those incentives were for older people and long-time unemployed.

“Actually the government took away the mature workers rebate and used it to fund subsidies to get older workers back in the workforce but that doesn’t help low-paid older workers stay employed,” the reporter said. “There is a lot of age discrimination in the tech industry. What is the government doing to combat that?”

“I’m sorry that’s probably a question better suited to the Minister,” Ms Scott replied. “I’d prefer not to jump into specific tax questions.”

After a 35-minute speech, the press had only seven minutes in which to ask questions. Sending a Junior Minister to deliver a speech she neither wrote nor rehearsed should send a clear message to the people of this country about how seriously it takes innovation and how suspicious it is of any opportunities for scrutiny.

Ms Scott said that automation will make 40% of Australian jobs redundant in 10-15 years, the Ideas Boom therefore is “pivotal” to economic change. That’s a pretty alarming statistic. It’s not surprising people have questions.

The government has spent $28 million on marketing its Ideas Boom but the country has yet to hear a lick of detail. Today the tech press were given seven minutes in which to extract answers from the junior minister who held steadfast to the old cliche of saying as little as possible in the time allocated.

Perhaps next time the government sends a representative to a national technology conference, it will send someone armed with information willing to answer the tough questions. The speech delivered by Scott was an exercise in deception and misdirection.

The reality is the government has killed a booming renewables industry, gutted NICTA and CSIRO and degraded the NBN to the extent that Telstra is refusing to sell business plans over FTTN.

Somehow these important little caveats failed to make it into Ms Scott’s speech.

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