By Andrew Hobbs, Group Editor
AMONG the least reported aspects of newly-appointed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet reshuffle was the dissolution of former minister Ian Macfarlane’s massive Industry portfolio.
In addition to taking on responsibility for Industry when the Abbott government took office in 2013, Mr Macfarlane took on the portfolios of manufacturing as well as resources and energy, as well as tourism and science.
He will be replaced by not one but two cabinet level ministers – former education minister Christopher Pyne, in the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio, and Josh Frydenberg – the former assistant treasurer, as the new minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia.
Mr Turnbull cited the need for generational change when announcing that Mr Macfarlane would not be re-appointed to Cabinet – and many groups have publicly mourned his departure from the role.
There is also much to be said for separating the portfolios in the way that Mr Turnbull has done –Australia’s cabinet has long operated this way, and the two ministers will have to deal with two wildly different sectors of the economy.
It is often true that decisions made in cabinet will boost one segment of the economy and diminish the other – and one would expect the ministers responsible for each to argue their cases within the party room before a decision is made.
However, this is not to say that the fields of industry and innovation, and of resources and energy, ought to work at odds with each other.
In fact cooperation between the two fields is more important than ever.
This edition of Oil & Gas Australia features a variety of stories showcasing new ideas by both governments and companies to increase efficiency and productivity in the oil and gas industry.
We see joint industry projects developing new devices, companies finding new ways to use data, businesses shifting their planning for coming years and governments opening new doors for consultation across the board.
Many of these innovations see companies traditionally only associated with development of information technology working with industry professional who spend their time on the day to day operation of industrial projects.
Such technologies will often come from experts based overseas, with many people often working in different countries, pooling their knowledge and experience in creating new solutions.
In and of itself, this is not new. However the ease with which this cooperation is pursued and the speed in which it is done is likely to continue to rise.
If Australia is to be ahead of the game it must create an environment that fosters a drive to lead in the field, as well as having the resources to do so.
Mr Pyne and the new assistant minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy, have both moved quickly to speak forthrightly about a need to foster new sources of innovation in the early days of their new roles.
Mr Roy told ABC’s Lateline that Australia needed to embrace changes in the global economy, diversifying and creating innovations in a variety of industries.
“We should be incredibly optimistic about our potential as a country to grasp effectively technology disruption, which is changing the global economy,” he said.
Mr Pyne, in a statement issued from his office, highlighted government programs including tax incentives, cooperative research centres and industry growth centres as evidence of the government’s commitment to the same.
But it is not the role of government to pursue innovation itself – that is the role of companies, of universities and in some cases a collaboration between the two – encouraged and assisted by governments when possible.
The key line of Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country is often quoted when discussing Australia’s politics – that “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck.”
But the line that follows ought to give its business leaders pause.
“It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”
That sentence is over 50 years old and ought to be consigned to history. A change of government allows for new opportunities – but only if leaders (in all fields) are prepared to take them.