I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and acknowledge elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge my Parliamentary colleague present.

Ed Husic Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and the Future of Work.

A proud fellow western Sydney representative and someone who acutely understands the importance of innovation for Australia’s future.

I thank Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW for being here and his work in promoting a fairer Australia.

I also acknowledge Australian Google CEO Jason Pellegrino who’s here with us today.

And thanks to Alex Scanderra, the CEO of Stone and Chalk.

Not that long ago, there was a long list of politicians lining up to make the case that innovation is vital for Australia’s future.

About this time last year, every politician and their cavoodle were singing the praises of an agile, innovative economy.

It was an exciting time to be alive.

We were agile.

We were nimble.

And then.  We weren’t.

As quickly as the talk flared, it fizzed.

It’s like we lived through five minutes of innovation sunshine.

While the sun was out, what did we witness?

  • A new Innovation Minister excitedly told us the Prime Minister had asked him to unleash his inner reformer and push the realms of policy innovation to new heights.  Less than 12 months on he’s no longer the Innovation Minister, later succeeded by two others.  We’ve had four innovation ministers since 2015.
  • We were whipped into Policy Hacks.
  • We saw one innovation statement.  December 2015.  That was it.
  • We lived through $30m Ideas Boom ad campaigns.

Five minutes of innovation sunshine.

And as the light fades, the Tony Abbott gloat - and I quote: “It’s good we’re no longer talking about innovation and agility”.

The fact of the matter is that innovation for the Turnbull Government wasn’t an economic imperative – it was a political talking point.

The PM meddled in “product differentiation”.

A new PM wanted to show he was a “different” PM.

And this is the problem: they didn’t have a policy strategy for making innovation a key part of our economic growth story.

Innovation, making Australia a smarter, better nation – this is not a political plaything.

The sad reality is: there is a cost to the Government’s inability to explain the benefits of innovation and their lack of policy focus on the issue since the election.

Their inability to explain why innovation is important to our economic future is, in itself, an economic problem.

It has another downside: it’s impacted on your view of politics as a change platform; more show than substance, fleeting interest instead of a genuine commitment to collaborate and drive change.

This is just wrong.  We need a stronger focus on your work and we need a stronger focus on building a smarter country. 

Because, as my friend the Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and the Future of Work Ed Husic has said: “If we’re not talking about being a smarter nation, we’re not going to do the things that make us a smarter nation.”

This lack of policy focus reached a nadir last week, when it became abundantly apparent that they had not thought through the implications of their rushed 457 package on universities, tech and entrepreneurial sector.

In our part of the world the contrast couldn’t be more stark: as Malcolm Turnbull clamps down access to tech skills and shuts the door on smarts, the Kiwis call for innovators to come to New Zealand, the website processing the application crashes due to the level of interest.

Labor has a more balanced approach - Bill Shorten announcing on Wednesday we would introduce the SMART visa: targeting Science, Medical, Academic, Research and Technology skills that are in short supply here. 

We heard your concerns and responded.

Allowing internationally-recognised specialists to collaborate with Australian universities, researchers, scientists and start-ups helps get the balance right.

We want to make sure this sector can move ahead while ensuring that Australians don't get left behind.

That’s an evidenced and, importantly, genuine commitment to a smarter nation.

But I am not here today just to give the Turnbull Government a free character assessment. Far from it.

And we constantly said we’d work with the Government – and they constantly ignored the offer.

Even when we had some concerns about some of their changes, we let their laws on VC and angel tax changes through.  Partisanship took a back seat.

But since they refused our offer to make this a national, collaborative effort it would be foolish to stay silent anymore.

Having got these things off my chest, I don’t intend to refer to the Turnbull Government any further in this speech.

This is a snapshot of where we’re at and how we got here.

Where to next?

That question underpins my words to you today.

Because today I want to make to you – and to the broader community - the case for innovation.

To not just sketch out the thinking or a policy framework.

But to champion the values that would drive our commitment to innovation –Labor values as the alternative Government.

Because where we stand now, we don’t have time to lose: it’s crucial the innovation agenda is made relevant to people worried about their - and their nation’s - economic future.

Specifically, I want to make the case that a proper approach to innovation is about entrepreneurialism, but not just about entrepreneurialism.

It’s about existing firms as well as new ones.

It’s about manufacturing as well as services.

It’s about rural and regional Australia just as much as it is about cities.

This has been a key focus of ours for not just the last few months, but the last several years.

In my Shadow Treasurer’s reply to the 2014 Budget at the National Press Club, I used half the speech to outline the importance of innovation in reviving the economy.

I reprised the same theme in my 2015 Budget reply.

Bill Shorten made this theme a key part of his nationally televised Budget reply in 2015.

But we did more than just talk about innovation.

We led the policy debate with concrete policy initiatives:

  • A $500 million Smart Investment Fund.
  • an Innovation Investment Partnership to identify and bust barriers holding back superannuation fund investment in Australian-based venture capital funds and early-stage enterprises.
  • Improving access to finance for startups and improving the flow of capital to startups.
  • A significant focus on STEM, both thousands of student and teacher scholarships
  • Outlining ways to increase entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation – to build the flow of talent into the local ecosystem.

Having made this a focus of our policy development in Opposition, it will remain a key focus for us in Government.

You may well ask: why? Why Labor?

Why is Labor – the party born to advance the quality of life for working Australians – interested in encouraging innovation and the emergence of a stronger entrepreneurial spirit? 

Because innovation, properly calibrated, can help lift living standards which is what we’re all about.

While it’s undeniable that innovation and entrepreneurial activity has the power to boost living standards, there are legitimate concerns in the community about what innovation actually means for them.

The world is changing quickly with forecasts of the increasingly rapid uptake of automated processes and the potential threat to jobs.

This change is what draws us within Labor back to the priority of driving innovation, creating a smarter nation – and, importantly, being prepared for the change that is coming.

And its impact in Australia could be very significant.

When we think of the future of work, we’re often guided by the findings from Oxford University that observed that 47 per cent of jobs currently performed could be automated.

The OECD took a different view saying the impact of automation could be between 9 and 15 per cent – still a big number.

About 137 million workers or 56 percent of the salaried workforce are at risk from automation in just 5 South East Asian economies, according to the International Labour Organisation.

And here in Australia there has been some examination of what this could look like.

For instance, Faethm drew on proprietary and publicly available data,  modelling the positive and negative impact of technologies on work over time, that include Process AI, Social AI, Fixed Robotics, Mobile Robotics, Advanced Materials.

And unlike the other studies that took more of a global, high level view of automation, Faethm did this right down to enterprise and business unit level.

In many cases, they believe technology will augment not automate work, such as in medical, interpersonal and creative industries. 

They also believe augmentation will require additional workers in a similarly wide range of current and new occupations to enable and support those who are augmented.

Given the shortage in Australia of many of these occupations, further opportunities for additional new work exist in educating, training, supplying and supporting those in growth occupations and industries.

That’s the good news.

They acknowledge automation will take jobs.  In some cases: dramatically.

In figures they haven’t released publicly until now they’ve predicted automation job impacts across various industry sectors:

  • Financial services between 30 and 40 per cent of the jobs automated, with the big concern being second tier players could be impacted to a greater degree;
  • Manufacturing could witness automation affecting 50 per cent of jobs currently performed; and
  • Fast food – the generator of entry level jobs for young and mature workers alike – could see 60 per cent of the jobs automated.

This poses not just a challenge to government – Australia’s managerial class hasn’t been tested by a challenge of this scale in quite some time, with jobs poised to transform overnight while potentially shearing away rafts of middle manager positions as well.

The know-how and expertise of Michael Priddis, who is with us today, one of Faethm’s principals, was relied upon in the development of CSIRO report called “Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce”.

Released by the Government in February last year. 

It talked about the impact of automation in Australia and what was needed to prepare.

Unfortunately the report gathers dust.

The work of Faethm is compelling.

But it’s also why many members of the public very legitimately equate innovation with job losses.

This is something us politicians have to be alive to.

It doesn’t mean we walk away from talking about the economic levers of the future.

I’ve made it clear in previous speeches that in the face of rising populist anti-trade sentiment, we now - more than ever - need to win minds. And hearts.

We will not win the evidence war … without evidence.

We can to some extent draw on history to give some perspective here.

Where new technology frontiers have been achieved, it’s tended to result in job losses, but also job gains.

I’ve spoken with firms that started with one or two and end up with a dozen or more jobs in the space of one to two years.

There was no doubt some fear in recent decades when the internet was created, that it would tear into the heart of many traditional industries.

It definitely helped underpin a very large productivity boost around the advanced world in the 1990s.

But at the same time, it helped create more jobs than were lost. 

As a 2011 McKinsey study showed for every job that had been lost in France as the result of the advent of the internet in the previous 15 years, 2.4 new jobs had been created.

In the United States, for example, the share of farm employment fell from 40 percent in 1900 to 2 percent in 2000.

Yet the US now has an unemployment rate of around 5% with most people who are looking for a job able to find one.

Millions of jobs have indeed been lost. But millions have been gained.

The evidence war is crucial.

It’s why I’ve said that under a Labor Government the Productivity Commission would report regularly on how trade reforms, together with new developments in technology and automation benefit people, businesses and communities around Australia.

This leads me to one of the key points I want to make today.

It is incumbent on all of us: those of us in the government sector and those in the entrepreneurial sector to ensure the potential growth is spread through our society.

This has to be central to the discussion around innovation into the future: building breadth in the effort, including the many not the few.

An innovation effort made up of people of all backgrounds, all regions – and sharing the economic uplift instead of dividing a small number of winners extracting their gains from the many who think they’ve been exploited in the process.

And we need to be making women the central focus in every discussion about startups – truly diversifying our nation’s innovation effort, calling up their talent as much as possible.

And when this community – the startup community – focusses on bringing people along with it and opening up opportunity, it’s inspiring.

For example, Techfugees brought people together to develop creative tech solutions to help refugees settle and build productive lives in their new home. 

One Techfugee high achiever is the firm Refugee Talent; a digital platform connecting skilled refugees with companies offering short- and long-term job opportunities.

Some of their clients include the Australian Tax Office, Deloitte and the ABC.

We want to see innovation and smarts applied not just to open up economic opportunity – we want it to improve the quality of life in communities across the country.

I’ve been impressed with the “Rise of the Rest” initiative in the US, entirely private sector led, which actively looks to regional economies, especially those who are doing it tough, and funds new and innovative projects.

To quote their mission: “High growth companies can now start and scale anywhere, not just in a few coastal cities.”

Because the angst created from job losses in traditional sectors like manufacturing and the threat of actual middle class destruction has caused social dislocation and has serious social costs.

We only have to look at the United States to look at what a broken growth model can do, not just for regional areas but for the cities too.

As a recent Pew Research Centre analysis has found, from 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined.

There is no doubt Australia has fared much better than this.

A strong minimum wage, healthy remuneration for people doing shift and weekend work and a well targeted welfare system have all helped avoid what we have seen in other advanced economies.

But now is definitely not the time to rest on our laurels.

This is why for Labor, inclusion is the key.

Inclusion that will encourage breadth of effort: welcoming contributions from a wide range of people and across a wide range of suburbs and regions.

An inclusive approach that won’t shout down the anxious and those concerned about the impact of change but realise there are genuine fears about opportunity for people now and into the future.

And an inclusive mind-set that realises we all have a stake in building a smarter nation – and securing a reward for that. 

Not just in the form of a dividend or an equity stake (although there’s also a case for finding ways for more people to own capital).

I’m talking about always working towards better, fairer employment outcomes too. 

Aiming for more secure work and not arguing that the only way to get that is by sacrificing your own wages and livelihoods to do so.

What I am saying is while today I am making the case for innovation, preserving a strong middle class has never been more important.

It’s why Labor is forcefully defending the lower paid from absolute cuts to their penalty rates.

In fact, in this era of record low wages growth, record underemployment, and people looking over their shoulders at whether technology will take their jobs in the next few years, I cannot think of a worse decision which threatens to undermine the community’s confidence in the current economy system.

It’s also why Bill Shorten and the Labor team are so passionate about supporting education and training and building our skills base so we are ready for this period of change.

We only have to look across the pacific to see the difficulties and upheaval – economic and political – faced when the social contract is ripped up and forgotten about.

But while we have fared better, the distributional divide between cities and regions does exist here in Australia.

Some parts of the Australian economy are doing well.  Other parts are doing it tough.

Half of all the jobs created in Australia in the last decade have been created right where we are: in a two kilometre radius of the Sydney and Melbourne CBDs.

The economy feels good from this vantage point.

But as Shadow Treasurer, I think it’s vital that I’m in touch with what’s happening in other parts of our economy. 

So I spend a lot of time travelling to and talking to people in regional economies.  It doesn’t feel as good there.

Regional central and North Queensland. Tasmania. South Australia.

Here, unemployment and youth unemployment are high and show no signs of budging.

And yet, paradoxically, I do see innovation when I visit these places.

Many of Australia’s universities now have a regional presence, following the Dawkins reforms of the 1980s.

And these universities are often working on solutions to challenges and opportunities that exist in their communities.

But we need to do much more.

That is the beauty of the policy that Labor took to the last election for regional innovation hubs.

This included establishing a Regional Innovation Fund to kickstart initiatives to expand the role of Australia’s regions in contributing to the national innovation effort.

And Labor’s plan for a ‘Startup Year’ which would have encouraged the entry of around 2,000 graduate-led enterprises a year supporting ongoing regionally-led innovation.

This plan also included the commitment to establishing 20 new accelerators partnering with a regional university or TAFE, local governments and a local business chamber.

We’re seeing the emergence of a sharper regional focus from within the start-up community – it’s evidenced through initiatives like Silicon Paddock through to what we’re seeing at Runway Geelong.

A determination that innovation won’t emerge exclusively out of the laneways of our inner cities but will also call up the talents and smarts of those located in our regions, who want to generate the new jobs and firms that will endure the changes ahead.

But it’s not just about ‘accelerators’ and ‘entrepreneurs’.

Innovation isn’t just about new apps.

It’s about ensuring “hard” technology startups have the support which has positive spillovers to all industries, including our current manufacturing base.

As my passionate colleague Kim Carr has made time and time again:

“innovation policy applies not just to a small section of the economy, but to every enterprise. It applies not just to industry, but to universities and TAFEs, research institutes, the public service and the community sector”.

So Labor will be developing further policy in this area before the next election.

We will not vacate the field. It is not and never will be a passing fad for us.

It’s too important.

There is no shortage of populist politicians ready to provide people doing it tough with simplistic answers to their economic travails. 

And so, we must provide better answers.

Governments have a role to play, and so does the sector.

I’ve also been impressed – and we should all be impressed - with the forward thinking we saw this week – when AirTasker and Unions NSW announced they had reached an agreement to protect people’s incomes and livelihoods and grow wealth in the process.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey is here today – congratulations on the landmark agreement you have reached with AirTasker, it’s a model.

I think the agreement between Unions NSW and AirTasker underlines the potential of collaboration between entrepreneurs and unions to achieve outcomes which promote a better society.

The other element of the debate I want to touch on today is the role of Government.

Innovation is about the public sector, not just the private sector.

You all know the examples of successful commercial ventures which started with Government intervention.

It’s now more important than ever to have a properly funded CSIRO.

As part of our announcements last term, I also announced I would convene a Treasurer’s Entrepreneurs Council.

This remains our policy.

It would be the one new consultative council that I would create as Treasurer.

I can tell you, as Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer, you get plenty of feedback from all sectors of the economy: plenty of lobby groups and businesses coming through your door.

But the innovation sector doesn’t do this so much.

And importantly, I want Treasury officials spending time with entrepreneurs and innovators as well, getting to know each other.

This consultative council would be an important opportunity for innovators to pitch their policy ideas to Government.

But it would also be an important for Government to consult with the sector about policies under consideration, to avoid the sort of consequences and fall-out from decisions like we saw from the Government’s 457 policies last week.

An important forum for us to discuss what we can do to together to ensure that the benefits of innovation reach the suburbs and regions of Australia.

Conclusion

For the sake of our continued economic growth, a focus on innovation can’t be a flavour of the fortnight thing.

It takes sustained commitment and partnership.

It takes built understanding and trust.

Government and innovators working together.

That’s our approach.

We don’t come at this with short term politics in mind, but the long term best interests of the nation.

Together, we can do good things to make sure our economic growth continues and that is fairly shared.

We look forward to making that journey together.