Labor’s 21st-century accord on innovation

A Labor government will focus on a collaborative approach between unions, business and government, echoing its approach over nearly three decades ago which saw a number of reforms. 

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen outlined Labor’s approach to innovation at a Stone & Chalk function on Friday, which included the start-up community as well as Google chief executive Jason Pellegrino and ASIC chief executive Greg Medcraft.

In his speech, The Case for Innovation, Bowen noted the agreement reached last week between AirTasker and Unions NSW – to improve conditions for workers in the “gig economy” – as an example of a “landmark agreement” that “underlines the potential of collaboration between entrepreneurs and unions to achieve outcomes which promote a better society”. 

Following his formal presentation, Bowen and Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic were questioned by the audience who expressed their fatigue at hearing about countless innovation policies - “words we have heard before” - that have no real impact on the sector.

Leading on innovation 

Responding to question about the lack of “real action” on innovation and the “extraordinary opportunity for Labor to develop a 21st-century accord between capital and labor”, Bowen agreed that such a model can work in the 21st-century digital world. 

The accords under the Hawke/Keating goverments were made between government, business and unions to effectively restrain wages in order to tackle rising inflation. It brought about a number of initiatives – most notably a compulsory superannuation system, which today is worth around $1.4 trillion. 

Bowen acknowledge that “those big accord days” are gone given they were made in an environment of centralised wage fixing. 

However, as noted in his speech, “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”. 

While these industrial revolutions brought significant change, they also brought a lift in living standards. This must be the focus for governments if they are to lead on innovation, Bowen said. 

Working with Treasury 

“To win the public argument, we need to show how revolutions can lift standards and that will need a small ‘a’ accord. This will be done in consultation with entrepreneurs, unions and the broader business community.” 

Bowen also echoed his policy initiative of creating a “Treasurer’s Entrepreneurs Council”. 

“It’s very important that in this ecosystem, treasurer officials and entrepreneurs are brought together. Federal Treasury has some of the best minds in the country but they are not exposed to this part of the economy," he explained.

“We are going to create an environment that exposes both you – the startup community and innovators – to these government officials. So, when Treasury suggests a tax, they can engage with you and get feedback before formalising it."

Husic addressed the issue of the lack of cooperation between SMEs and governments, particularly in procurement.

Frustration was expressed at the difficulty of “flogging stuff” - providing services - to government which was important to SMEs given that government controls 50 to 60 per cent of spend in information technology. 

Husic said that in government he would seek to refine the procurement system and implement a kind burning platform approach - a term used in change management to illustrate the urgency of the situation and demand change. 

“When I get into government, I invite you all to consider me as your own battering ram”. 

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