Wyatt Roy’s ‘Utopia’

Sometimes life imitates art to hilarious effect. Especially when the ‘life’ in question is politics, and the ‘art’ is comedy.

ABC’s ‘Utopia‘ has developed a cult following over the last couple of years for its savagely hilarious, and sadly realistic, portrayal of incompetent government bureaucracy in ‘action.’

The series follows the working lives of the team that runs the fictional Nation Building Authority, a government body created to oversee major infrastructure projects.

Last week’s season finale (episode 8 of series 2, titled ‘Summit Attempt‘), revolved around the appointment of an ambitious young minister ready to shake things up, and the desire of the head of the Authority to hold an infrastructure conference to generate big, long-term ideas for future projects, which of course cascaded into an over-engineered PR mess.

Just a few weeks before the episode went to air, our incoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, appointed young Wyatt Roy Assistant Minister for Innovation. At age 25, Wyatt Roy is the youngest ever Minister in Australia’s history, and touted by his party as a future Prime Minister.

Malcolm Turnbull declared innovation a key priority for his government.

Wyatt Roy didn’t waste much time, decided to shake things up and ‘disrupt the Canberra bureaucracy.’ On 8 October he announced a ‘one-day policy hackathon,’ in less than two weeks’ time, on 17 October.

Yes, you heard that right. So hip and right now … a ‘policy hackathon.’

‘policyhack.’ even has a snazzy website, selling the concept with all the public relations gusto the government’s PR agency could muster:

We’ll 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.

Apparently, ‘everything is on the table.’ Except perhaps common sense, any discernible focus, or humility.

The one saving grace of this dubious, rushed exercise is that it is hosted by Blue Chilli, a respectable venture technology investor and accelerator. Perhaps they will be able steer the process toward something tangible. Although I have the feeling they are as much caught up in the hype as anyone else involved with the ‘hackathon,’ so my expectations are moderate to low.

One of my main gripes is that the event appears to equate innovation with start-ups, primarily technology start-ups.

PolicyHackSadly there is more to long-term sustainable innovation than technology start-ups. Better funding for education, and restoring funding for research and science, come immediately to mind. Sustainable innovation cannot come from a low quality education system, and underfunded research and development.

Australia also has an incredibly poor track-record when it comes to commercialising previous discoveries, and there is a lot of work to be done in that space by both the government, and industry.

A one-day ‘hurrython,’ may work to develop a single idea, project, or App, but not long-term national policies on innovation.

The ‘OurSay’ project page for the ‘hackathon’ invites concepts and ideas from the public, and asks the public to vote on those ideas, with the ‘champions on the highest voted policies … invited to Sydney to lead teams on the day to workshop their ideas with government representatives.’

This leaves me wondering whether populism is a suitable substitute for considered policy development.

I would like to think Wyatt Roy’s heart is in the right place, but the execution appears to have gotten away from him, and got lost in a public relations spin.

You couldn’t make ‘hackathon’ up if you tried. Oh to be a fly on the wall. Utopia, here we come …

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