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Australian tech startups mourn loss of political voice after election

Australian tech startup community loses a strong political voice as innovation minister loses seat in general election

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Australian politics is in turmoil following a double-dissolution election that seems likely to deliver a hung parliament and has seen a high-profile victim for the ruling conservative coalition government in the form of Wyatt Roy, the youthful innovation minister.

Roy was the youngest person ever elected to the Australian federal parliament when, at the age of 20, he won the seat of Longman in Queensland’s Moreton Bay area in the 2010 election, but now appears almost certain to lose his seat at the age of 26.

The Australian Electoral Commission has Roy’s Labor opponent Susan Lamb ahead by 2,017 votes, a swing of 8.45% against the minister. Labor has claimed victory in the seat, but Roy has not yet conceded.

Roy was re-elected in the 2013 coalition landslide and was one of the plotters who helped prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, a coalition moderate, to topple Tony Abbott, a right-wing conservative, from the Liberal party leadership and the prime ministership in September 2015.

Shortly after Turnbull’s ascendancy, Roy was given the role of assistant minister for innovation, becoming the youngest-ever member of an Australian federal government executive.

Turnbull faces either a hung parliament or ruling with a wafer-thin majority when the election vote count recommences on Tuesday 5 July. It could be weeks before very tight votes in the 150-seat federal parliament are decided. Turnbull and Labor party opposition leader Bill Shorten have already begun preliminary discussions with independents about who should form the next government.

Roy made a name for himself as the political voice of Australian startups and digital entrepreneurs, many of whom are already mourning his likely departure from parliament.

In a blog, Alex McCauley, CEO of startup advocacy group StartupAUS, lamented the loss of Roy.

“It is unfortunate to see the potential loss of one of Australia’s great startup champions in Wyatt Roy,” McCauley said in his blog. “As the assistant minister for innovation, he has made an enormous contribution to the conversation and the bipartisan policy framework around startups in Australia.”

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The Turnbull government and Roy may have oversold innovation policy to the converted and undersold it to those fearful of being disrupted out of their jobs.

The government spent AUD28m on an advertisement campaign with the message “Welcome to the ideas boom” plastered on hoardings around the country and Roy’s public utterances were full of the need to be agile, nimble and digital.

But at a policy debate during the campaign sponsored by Innovationaus.com, Labor innovation spokesman Ed Husic said the main challenge with innovation rhetoric was to persuade those outside the community of venture capital, startups and digital entrepreneurship.

Husic spoke of the attitudes to tech innovation and disruption in his electorate of Chifley, 40km from Sydney’s CBD, centred around working-class Mt Druitt.

“If I went and had this debate in the Mt Druitt library, I don’t think many people would get what we are talking about,” he said during the debate. “A lot of those people think what you do and what we argue for is a job killer.

“Them not getting what we are talking about is bad news for all of us. We need to ensure we get the maximum benefits from technology and change, and that it involves the entire nation in innovation effort, not just some of it.”

It is not clear who would replace Roy if the coalition is able to form either a majority or minority government and decides to retain the innovation minister slot.

Possibilities include Paul Fletcher, a former telco executive and the minister covering major projects, territories and local government, and Angus Taylor, assistant minister to the prime minister on digital transformation and cities.

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I sometimes wonder if elections are lost to a majority of opposing views or just to Luddites who have no views at all. The solution, of course, is education based on actual facts. 
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