Why Malcolm Turnbull referred to digital disruption as an economic issue

Posted by Rachel White

Published on September 15, 2015 under Latest News

"The disruption that we see driven by technology, the change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it"


These were some of the first words Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th PM of Australia, spoke to the press on Monday evening, after the leadership vote. 


Given the scale of the issues he's facing, why would he choose these words to create his first impression with the Australian public, especially those he will need to reach before an election in the next 12 months?


The quoted reason for the leadership change was the need to better articulate the government's economic agenda, and the context for his quote above is related to the future economic prosperity of our country.


From a leadership and big picture viewpoint, it was refreshing to see a leader acknowledge the scale of change currently being driven by technology, and the knock on effects for our prosperity. 


Within 10 years, it is very likely that the structural shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables will have happened. 3D printing will be commercialised, completely redefining the concept of "manufacturing".


The sharing economy, of which we've only seen the beginnings with Uber and AirBNB, will have completely transformed the services industry.


Banking will not look like it does today, nor will any other element of financial services. The "fintech" revolution has been well publicised, especially with the recent launch of the Stone & Chalk incubator. 

Several cities around the world, including Sydney, are positioning themselves as global hubs for this burgeoning sector.


Agriculture, especially local agriculture, may have a resurgence. We all need to eat and the quality of the ingredients is starting to become a more significant part of the consumer buying decision. It is technology, via targeted and small run supply chains, and also marketplaces that bring together buyers and sellers, that would make this possible.


Hence his words are fitting, and if he can do it he may be remembered as one of the most transformative prime ministers we've ever had.


Can he pull it off?


There are two groups he'll need to engage with, and fundamentally change how they view the world.


The first is his own party, plus Treasury. In the budget in May, infrastructure was "ports and roads". There was no mention of the digital infrastructure necessary for Australia to take full advantage of digital disruption.


He will need to take them on a journey to reframe what "infrastructure" and "long term planning" mean in a world that's changing very quickly. 


The second will be the Australian public. This is best illustrated by a taxi driver who's watching Uber eat their business model, for which they invested their life savings.


Part of the change in leadership style was to acknowledge the intelligence of the voting public and to remove the 3 word slogans. Taxi drivers, as a general rule, are well informed, talk to lots of interesting people, have opinions and are usually very happy to share them.


Can Malcolm Turnbull convince the taxi driver, who used to pick him up from the airport, that technology is their "friend". That Uber, or similar business models, are something they can take advantage of, if they're smart enough to do so.


If our former communications minister can find a way to communicate with the taxi driver in a way that engages their intelligence, then he's got a chance.