Australian Parliaments would be healthier with engineers: Dominello

Politicians talk about problems and engineers talk about solutions, according to NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello, who thinks Australian governments would be healthier if they had more engineers.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Australia would have a far healthier parliament if there were more engineers in it, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello MP said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Reimagination Thought Leaders Summit 2016, Dominello pointed out that the government is predominantly comprised of lawyers, who are trained to think a certain way. That particular thought process is slowing down progress, he said.

"Lawyers don't think problem-solution ... they think them-us, problem, problem, problem. It's always adversarial. That's the way we were designed to think, to pull apart issues," Dominello said. "If I had a group of engineers in the room, we would talk about solutions. It is a fundamentally different way of thinking."

Also speaking at the summit, Stephen Conroy, former Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, said risk-aversion, inadequate skills, outdated procurement practices, siloed departments, and lack of commercial imperatives for change are why Australia has struggled to translate technology into productivity gains, especially at a government level.

Reflecting on his experience as a minister, Conroy said driving change inside the government was a significant challenge due to internal silos.

"When I was [a minister], trying to convince both my cabinet colleagues but to then drive the change through the bureaucracy was a very significant challenge," Conroy said. "It required you to be paying attention all the time to the various tricks that the silos would use to protect their patches."

"Unless the government's giving a lead to create an environment in the broader economy, it's challenging for the investment decisions to be made, the creative culture to be encouraged."

As part of the NSW innovation strategy revealed yesterday, the government has set up a STEM Foundation, which Dominello said would help bring more diverse thinkers and skillsets into the Australian workforce, into parliament, and into bureaucracy. While it's a long-term view, he said nurturing a new generation of ministers will ultimately change the way the government thinks and works.

The innovation strategy, which Dominello described as a process rather than a static product, includes a range of initiatives to help shape the future of the state and try to unlock economic opportunities. One such initiative is the creation of a Ministerial Innovation Committee that will oversee the implementation of the innovation strategy and address systemic barriers to innovation and collaborative practice within and across government.

The government also launched the NSW Innovation Concierge (NIC), aimed at being the "front door" for entrepreneurs, startups, and SMEs looking to do business with the government. The NIC will implement a "Shark Tank" process where proposals for the government to be more innovative and agile are judged in consultation with industry experts. The progress of proposals can be tracked via NIC the same way we are able to track parcels.

As part of the innovation strategy, the NSW government will also provide businesses in the state the ability to test out new technologies within sandboxes that are isolated from their regulatory obligations. On Wednesday, Dominello said that helping businesses experiment with ideas will allow the government can "rapidly adapt disruption" and unlock economic and social opportunities.

Dominello is also a big proponent of open data, calling data the currency of the digital age, and will be pushing for open data initiatives in 2017. On Thursday, he alluded to the creation of a data marketplace in 2017, describing it as "big and bold and nothing the country has seen before". The details of the initiative were not revealed.

He first announced the state's plans to create the Data Analytics Centre in August last year, saying at the time that data is one of the greatest assets held by the government, but when it is buried away in bureaucracy, it is of little value.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a bill that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data; and announced the addition of a chief information and digital officer to drive the government's digital agenda.

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