Cabinet shuffle sees Mitch Fifield named as new communications minister

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced Mitch Fifield as his successor as communications minister, and Christopher Pyne as minister for industry, innovation, and science.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Newly appointed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield will take over his former job as minister for communications as part of a major Cabinet reshuffle.

Turnbull resigned as communications minister last Monday, before approaching then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott to ask for a leadership ballot. Turnbull was subsequently elected as the new Liberal Party leader, and sworn in as Australia's 29th prime minister.

As part of the reshuffle, Fifield has also been handed the minister for the arts portfolio, too.

The new Cabinet, sworn in on Monday, has seen Christopher Pyne move from minister for education and training to minister for industry, innovation, and science.

Speaking about Pyne's appointment to the portfolio, Turnbull said it highlights how important the government believes it is to invest in science; promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and support startups.

"If we want to remain a prosperous, first-world economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive. Above all, we must be more innovative," Turnbull said.

"We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We're not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it.

"And this is a government and a ministry that has that as its focus."

Turnbull has previously admitted that the education sector has gone backwards, revealing that the number of students taking up STEM learning has dropped significantly.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector. 75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require STEM skills, but only half of year 12 students are studying science; that's down from 94 percent 20 years ago. That is really a retrograde development, and we have to turn that around," he said at the time.

The move by Turnbull to highlight that science and startups are at the top of the agenda for the government echoes the welcoming appraisal the new prime minister received from the likes of not-for-profit entity StartupAUS CEO Peter Bradd, who expressed hopes to see the working relationship he formed with Turnbull during his tenure as communications minister continue.

"As Australia enters a new era of growth, technology-based startups have the potential to transform the economy and create the jobs of the future," Bradd said.

"In the next two decades, startups have the potential to contribute up to AU$109 billion in growth to the economy, and create 540,000 new jobs.

"StartupAUS is committed to continuing its work with government to boost Australia's prosperity and modernise its economy through a well supported and thriving tech startup ecosystem."

Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has welcomed the appointment of Fifield to the communications minister role and Pyne to his role as industry, innovation, and science minister, with chairman Kee Wong calling for the pair to work together to outline a plan to boost Australia's "competitiveness as a leader in a global digital economy".

"It is critical that we inspire and mentor our future workforce. The minister for communications and the minister for industry, innovation, and science will need to work with industry and other government departments on a national platform that equips and inspires our young generation to be future practitioners and leaders in STEM. We need to be creators of technology-led innovation, not just users of new technology," he said.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has also applauded Turnbull's Cabinet appointments, with acting ACS CEO Kim Finch saying that it marks the federal government's seriousness in helping build Australia's "digital capability".

"The ACS is excited by Prime Minister Turnbull's focus on setting a national agenda, which seeks to make Australia more agile and better equipped to capture the opportunities being created in a globally connected, digital world. A key to grasping these opportunities will be to ensure we lift the supply of skilled IT professionals and other STEM-based occupations. This is where the jobs of the future lie," she said.

Joining Pyne's side will be Karen Andrews, who will become assistant minister for science. Andrews highlighted the importance of STEM education for the future of Australia's workforce.

"With 75 percent of the jobs of the future expected to require some level of STEM skills, it's critical that we get the policy settings right now," she said.

"We have the potential to develop a real economic competitive advantage for Australia through the development of STEM and by encouraging business innovation through research and development.

"There's an economic imperative to ensuring science and research is at the forefront of our agenda, and I'm very heartened that Prime Minister Turnbull has signalled an emphasis on innovation and creating a 21st century economy."

As part of the new Cabinet, Senator George Brandis will remain as attorney-general, but he has also been appointed as leader of the government in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Scott Morrison, who previously held the social services minister role, will be appointed treasurer.

Additionally, Kelly O'Dwyer, one of five women appointed to the Cabinet, has been named as the minister for small business and the assistant treasurer. Turnbull said O'Dwyer will be responsible for the tax system, which is "at the centre" of the federal government's productivity agenda.

"It is vital we have a tax system that is fair, efficient, and creates the right incentives so that we can get the gains in productivity we need," he said.

The youngest Cabinet member in Australia's history, 25-year-old Wyatt Roy, has been named as assistant minister for innovation.

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