I started my career as a management consultant, where I was constantly encouraged to focus on the impact I was having on clients and on colleagues. I realised very quickly that creating an impact was a natural mission for me. It was exciting to discover that what drove me as a person, was in fact the essence of my job. Impact was everything. I was never once measured on a financial outcome, even when I was a Partner.
I loved getting involved in difficult client or industry situations, aligning myself with good people and working out how to move the dial; not just how to solve the problem intellectually – although that’s important – but to solve the problem politically and to create change.
I realised that it wasn’t just making a difference that was important to me, it was making a difference in Australia. Ultimately, that realisation led me to politics.
Those early years were an extraordinary discovery phase, identifying what I cared about and enjoyed. As I immerse myself in cities all around the world, as part of my ministerial portfolio, I see more clearly what an incredible country Australia is and the unique strength of Australian culture. We have an underlying flair for entrepreneurship and innovation.
I see more clearly what an incredible country Australia is and the unique strength of Australian culture. We have an underlying flair for entrepreneurship and innovation.
I grew up with the big reforms of the 1980s, which are still exciting to look back on, but I think the challenge we now face is more about making government work better. Whatever your thoughts about big government or small government, the one thing we do need is better government. This is why the digital revolution and use of technology is so important. A huge proportion of what government does now is based on the intelligent use of information.
Better policy is formulated by using data in smarter ways.
We’ve seen New Zealand link together government data sets to focus programs in support of their most vulnerable citizens. They’ve directed interventions to assist third generation welfare recipients and measured the outcomes. The idea of measuring outcomes in government, and redirecting programs accordingly, shouldn’t be revolutionary but it’s not what past governments have typically done, as they didn’t have the data or the technology that we have today.
Major industry reform is happening across the economy, driven by well-informed consumers. For example, it’s getting easier for consumers to compare plans and switch between energy companies if they choose to. In an era where finances are squeezed and the cost of living is a battle, having access to that kind of data can make a real difference. This is how modern reform occurs. Increasingly, it’s empowered consumers who will effectively restructure industries. Uber showed us how a humble taxi-ride could be turned into a consumer driven experience simply by empowering the customer with a mobile phone app. Similar changes will happen in industry after industry. Where entrepreneurship and innovation can make a difference, and make people’s lives better, it’s the job of government to create a regulatory framework and then get out of the way.
Heavy handed government is unambiguously bad, but a sensible, light touch regulatory framework can make a real difference in supporting investment and job creation.
My vision is to unleash the enormous amount of energy that resides in the Australian people.
When you unleash energy inside a big organisation, it’s fantastic to watch. At a national level, that’s largely about getting the institutions right. It’s not about telling people what to do – because they know what they want to do – it’s about enabling people to get on with it.
In my own electorate of Hume, I see time and again that what drives a thriving community, more than anything, is a relatively small group of energised business people. In Goulburn, where I live, we have a number of emerging businesses in everything from logistics to advanced manufacturing and agriculture. One business, driven by two brothers, creates structures for medium density apartments in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. It’s been a fantastic success, growing from startup to close to two hundred employees in a very short period of time. The multiplier effect on the town is enormous.
I’ve seen it happen many times. I was fortunate to be part of reforms in the New Zealand dairy industry in the 1990s and reforms inside one of the big miners in the North West in the early 2000s, which unleashed phenomenal growth. The first was a national framework and the second was internal to the organisation, but I’ve seen what happens when you get it right. Human beings are like coiled springs, they really want to do things, but you’ve got to give them space and opportunity, otherwise they become frustrated and the energy dissipates. It’s not our job to go and seek out opportunities for everybody but it is our job to make sure that risk takers can flourish. What America has got right in places like Silicon Valley, is that it has created links between the universities, finance sector and small and big business in a way that creates a well-functioning ecosystem. Australia has done this in many sectors. We’ve done it in agriculture, where we’ve had phenomenal success. We’ve done it in the mining sector. We’re doing it in financial services and in education.
When you unleash energy inside a big organisation, it’s fantastic to watch. At a national level, that’s largely about getting the institutions right.
The belief that we’ve got to get the frameworks right, comes from my conservative bent. The belief that empowered, excited human beings will quickly drive great outcomes comes from my entrepreneurial bent. It’s what I’ve seen my whole life and I know it works.
The good fortune of our geography in relation to Asia matters in some of our industries. In mining and agriculture it helps to differing degrees, particularly for bulk commodities. In the service and knowledge sectors, which are a growing part of the economy, being in the same or similar time zone as the big markets can help when you’re trying to build relationships. While location does matter, even more important is our underlying entrepreneurial culture and capability to build a business. In the economy, in government and elsewhere, as long as we put the power in the hands of citizens – rather than in the hands of vested interests, monopolies, bureaucrats or politicians – as long as the power is always being pushed to Australians in every way, then I think we’ll get the right outcomes for our country.