Wyatt Roy's Policy Hack is already becoming a joke

The everything-in-a-hurry hackathon model might be OK for brainstorming a single app or business model. For developing policies for a complex nation, not so much.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

I've no doubt that Wyatt Roy's heart is in the right place, but the new Assistant Minister for Innovation's Policy Hack is turning into a joke before it even starts -- and I'm far from surprised.

As its OurSay project page explains, Policy Hack will "use the hackathon methodology to nominate, select and work together in mixed teams on new government policy ideas designed to foster the growth of innovation industries including tech startups, biotech, agtech, fintech, renewables and resources".

Roy has teamed with startup accelerator BlueChilli. So before we even start, the entire concept of innovation has been equated with startups. And that means we're seeing comments like those from venture capitalist Paul Niederer, framed in terms of "seed-stage startups" and "the next Facebook".

"We need to empower these brave supporters and innovators in their early days. They move forward tranche by tranche as goals are achieved until ready for a Series A. However... the centralised regulatory and cost structure does not empower this area of funding," Niederer writes.

What Niederer says is fair enough, at least within that specific, narrow framing of new businesses as startups on the venture-capital funding road to riches. But, as I've written before, startups represent a tiny proportion of the overall opportunity.

A process that focuses solely on startups will inevitably end up being more about making things better for youthful developers with billion-dollar stars in their eyes, and the high-risk investors they attract, than for the stated aim of "making innovation a centrepiece of the Australian economy".

Inevitably, some of the ideas being proposed, such as Alex Ghiculescu's suggestion that technical graduates being encouraged to work in startups through a AU$10,000 Australian Startup Signing Bonus, are really little more than asking the government to subsidise those lottery ticket purchases.

The punchline to all this will come this Saturday, 17 October, with a one-day hackathon-based policy development workshop in Sydney with policy experts from the departments of Treasury, Industry, and Communications.

"The champions on [sic] the highest voted policies will be invited to Sydney to lead teams on the day to workshop their ideas with government representatives," the Policy Hack page explains.

Ah yes. "Highest voted policies", eh? Do you think that process might favour populism over considered policy proposals?

Well, as at 0800 AEDT Monday, the current highest voted policy was from Clinton Mead.

"Cut regulations, cut taxes, abolish industry subsidies, abolish duplicate Federal Departments like Industry, Health and Education, abolish the crime of having a job known as the 'minimum wage', and just generally stop doing things that prevent people from working together to make their own lives and others better," Mead writes.

"It's not that hard Wyatt, you don't need a national workshop. Just get on with it."

That's Mead's policy in its entirety.

In second place is a rambling suggestion from Hector Titterton.

"It is apparent the current frameworks and organisation of power/education are the causation of the many global issues we face today. Global sea levels rising, global financial crisis, global food shortages, the increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, acidification of water, changing weather systems and an increase in natural disasters," writes Titterton, before going on to discuss climate-change refugees, biodegradable coffee cups, and an education system that includes "the structural analysis of colonial history".

I look forward to Mead and Titterton leading the discussion of their sophisticated, detailed, and sharply-focused policy proposals with those experts from the departments of Treasury, Industry, and Communications this Saturday. The future of Australian innovation is assured.

Fetch me some popcorn, will you?

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