profile Several weeks ago Queensland's Liberal-National Party went through a reshuffle of its top ranks that resulted in Shadow ICT Minister Jann Stuckey being ousted from the portfolio, and a young gun, member for Indooroopilly, Scott Emerson, parachuted into her role.
Scott Emerson (Credit: Office of Scott Emerson)
For most of his career Emerson was a journalist, initially for the ABC as part of its radio division, but then in the mid-1990s as a political reporter in Queensland for The Australian newspaper — a post which eventually led to the lofty role of chief of staff for the newspaper during the Sydney Olympics. After 2004, Emerson left the paper, winning a Churchill Fellowship to study political campaigning; he ultimately ended up helping to run a Brisbane-based public relations firm after that, before being elected to the Queensland Parliament in March 2009.
In the scant weeks since Emerson was appointed, he has put that experience to good use.
The Queensland Labor Government — and its ICT Minister Robert Schwarten's career — has not been short of technology-related issues over the years; the recent Queensland Health payroll debacle being the most recent example.
During the 2009 state election, the local ICT industry took the unusual step of blockading an election debate with yellow T-shirts in order to get its point across that both sides of politics needed to pay attention to the sector.
Emerson has already taken advantage of Labor's problems to start levelling accusations of poor management at Schwarten, blasting him in one media release as "refusing to take responsibility for a monumental blunder that occurred on his watch" and claiming other issues at Education Queensland were "a major saga" along the same lines.
With responsibility for the science portfolio, Emerson has also started antagonising the government in that sector, labelling Labor's approach as "spin and slogans".
In an interview this week, Emerson said his appointment as shadow ICT and science minister was a "commitment" from the Liberal-National Party (LNP) to the portfolio in terms of where it was going as a party.
The politician said that as his first steps opposing Schwarten, he will be talking to people across the industry in the private and public sectors to gain an impression of where things are going well and where they're not so well. One issue, a favourite one of Queensland-based technology companies like TechnologyOne, will be the extent to which the State Government uses local products.
"In terms of ICT particularly, [the Queensland Government] is probably the biggest consumer of ICT products in the state, but not the biggest consumer of Queensland's ICT products," said Emerson. "The LNP is a party which is determined to support the local ICT industry and business and job creation."
Other issues will include getting the basics right, an area in which Labor has suffered some problems in the past. "The bottom line for ICT for a state government is reliability," said Emerson. "ICT does provide opportunities to provide services to Queenslanders more efficiently and effectively, but it also has to be more reliable."
Another issue in Queensland is the National Broadband Network (NBN). Like most, the Labor State Government is behind the initiative, but it's also facing dissent from rural councils, with the Liberal-National Party dominating Brisbane Council, which has pledged to roll out its own fibre around the city in competition with the NBN.
While Emerson was reluctant to comment on the network in depth, he said that like the Federal Coalition, what concerns him about the project is the cost.
When asked where Queensland stands on the opt-in or opt-out connection debate, Emerson said that from what he'd seen, Labor was backing Labor on the issue.
"But I think there are serious questions that need to be asked about the NBN," he added, saying that in his opinion, Labor Government was "not interested" in asking them.
When asked if he has a background in the sector, the politician doesn't reply directly. But he notes his career has always been about information in general. "By profession I was a journalist," he said. "I have been very involved in information for all of my life."
Ultimately, whether Emerson can give Schwarten and the Labor Government a run for their money on technology issues will depend on several factors: access to information from the industry, how well he understands the technology sector, and taking advantage of political opportunities such as the Queensland Health payroll debacle.
No doubt the sector will be watching closely to see how far its newest advocate can go.