Tom Burton: risk the elephant left in innovation room

Malcolm Turnbull wants government to take more risks — but that requires a very different approach if he wants a truly 21st century government. Today’s Innovation Statement is only step one.

For government agencies and their officials, the key message of today’s Innovation and Science Agenda — if it wasn’t already obvious — is that business as usual is no longer acceptable. “We have got to be prepared to take risks,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the assembled press. 

When you have the PM (pictured) repeating to whoever will listen that government has to take risks and to become as agile as the start-up community it seeks to promote, then you know things are changing. Indeed, Turnbull goes as far as to turn this into a political doctrine of 21st century government, declaring he wants to reset the paradigm that says politicians have to guarantee every policy will work. 

Consider that this comes from the same governing party that only last year was dragging officials (and prime ministers) before a royal commission to investigate the pink batts insulation program, and you start to understand how different Turnbull wants government to be. 

But turning around over a century of bureaucratic practice and culture is frankly not going to come from within the public sector. Citizens need to trust their governments and there is a deeply honourable culture of managing and protecting the public interest that underpins our federal and state governments. This has largely rendered state and federal government immune from corruption, but means public agencies are just not built for risk taking activities.

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