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Australian prime minister appoints new tech leads

Malcolm Turnbull has made key tech appointments following his narrow victory in the Australian election

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has selected his ministry for the new parliamentary term, including changes to the key technology slots of innovation and cyber security, after a close-run election.

Turnbull now leads a conservative coalition government with a majority of one or possibly two seats in Australia’s 150-seat lower House of Representatives, down from a 14-seat buffer in the previous parliament, after calling a double dissolution election on 2 July.

The prime minister has moved Greg Hunt, previously environment minister, to the role of industry innovation and science minister, replacing senior front-bencher Christopher Pyne, who becomes minister of defence industry.

Australia now has its first cyber security minister, Dan Tehan, who becomes the minister assisting the prime minister for cyber security.

Tehan will work with a yet-to-be-appointed ‘cyber ambassador’ and head cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon in furthering the country’s A$240m cyber security strategy, announced in April.

The strategy aims to enable the sharing of threat information between business and government through the existing Australian Cyber Security Centre and new installations in state capital cities.

The government will also spend A$136m on boosting cyber crime investigation and intelligence capacity, identifying vulnerabilities in government systems and awarding grants to small business to boost security.

Hunt will now drive the National Innovation and Science Agenda, which was announced with much fanfare last December. The policy package was applauded by the startup sector at the time for its tax incentives, promise of enabling equity-based crowdfunding, and for putting innovation on the Australian political map.

Hunt will be assisted by the coalition’s Craig Laundy, who replaces Wyatt Roy, the previous innovation minister.

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Roy was the youngest person ever to be 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 and became the youngest person to lose his seat, at 26, in the recent election. He was part of the team that helped Turnbull plot the leadership spill in September 2015 which led to the downfall of then coalition prime minister Tony Abbott.

Hunt and Laundy will have much to do, especially in pushing through promised reforms and readjusting the innovation agenda to be more inclusive of Australians who are not in-demand data scientists or gifted entrepreneurs.

The coalition has been widely criticised for being out of touch with its promotion of innovation policy to the wider electorate and scaring rather than inspiring many who see disruption as a job-killer rather than a fortune-maker.

The government lost a swag of seats in Sydney’s western suburbs  and in Tasmania, where it was perceived to be out of touch of with working and lower middle class Australians.

On the lawmaking front, Hunt and Laundy will need to push through legislation enabling equity-based crowdfunding which was stalled in the Senate when the election was called and will now have to be shepherded through parliament again.

The bill would allow publicly unlisted companies with annual turnover and gross assets of less than $5m to raise up to $5m a year from individuals in return for equity in the company, with a maximum investment per individual of $10,000 a year. Labor had criticised the bill because it stopped short of letting private concerns get crowdfunding.

Labor innovation policy spokesman Ed Husic has signalled that the opposition will player a harder game on innovation policy in the next parliament. “The coalition cannot bank on receiving automatic support on innovation issues from Labor,” Husic told Australian website Innovationaus.com.

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With no comment on Australian politics, this is the only logical move. We've already seen the international jockeying for IT dominance. Making that a federal-level priority is essential. We're up against some serious players and we need to stay focused on the problem,
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