Geology Talk

Trump upset victory not a defeat for Aussie innovation

At CMIC16, ABC Insiders host Barrie Cassidy almost called the outcome of the US presidential election two weeks early. He cautioned that while opinion polls showed Hillary Clinton would win, Donald Trump enjoyed enough support in the bellwether US states to gain at least 200 of the 270 college votes needed for victory.

Cassidy suggested the grass roots support for Trump was an expression of anger at the Washington establishment in the parts of America that had once flourished as the US economy’s engine rooms; the middle and blue-collar classes felt abandoned by globalisation. As history shows, Trump’s “anti-establishment” appeal, even without an articulated policy platform, turned the US presidential election on its head.

Cassidy added that Australians, like Americans, are equally distrustful of “trickle down economics” and globalisation. Indeed, in the aftermath of Trump’s upset victory and Brexit, politicians – from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to the Member for Warringah Tony Abbott to One Nation’s Pauline Hanson – are backpedalling and advocating Trump’s populist agenda of anti-globalisation and economic nationalism. They argue that Australians are as disinterested in the Canberra “establishment” and media “elites” as their US cousins and that it’s time to refocus on “grass roots” issues. Shorten and the MP for Dawson George Christensen have even made unlikely allies on the tightening of the 457 visa program for skilled foreign workers.

Indeed, this about-turn contradicts Turnbull’s rhetoric about innovation a year ago and CMIC16’s innovation theme. The question that arose from the optimistic appraisal of presenters like the CSIRO’s George Quezada, the Future Exploration Network’s Ross Dawson and Deloitte Digital’s Peter Williams at CMIC16 – which proposed a future where knowledge work is digitised and automation replaces traditional labour – is how would those outlooks impact the extractive industry?

Quarries may not be so adversely affected because the industry is in transition. Where quarry operations 30 years ago had 100 personnel, today the larger ones, thanks to the automation of the crushing and screening circuit, comprise 30 people. Smaller operations constitute fewer than 10 people. Further, operators run a multitude of machines – from the sales loader to the secondary mobile crusher – meaning that the introduction of driverless vehicles to quarries may not be so disruptive. Operators may do more time in a control room, albeit within walking distance of the machinery, rather than programming it at the face. It would also offer opportunities for tech-savvy younger workers with engineering and IT degrees – including more women – to join the industry.

Nevertheless, quarry personnel will require modern skills to work with these technological disruptors. The IQA’s Quarry Academy, announced at CMIC16, should bolster their skillset. The Academy will offer IQA members a professional capabilities framework, implemented by ongoing professional development, vocational and tertiary qualifications and professional credentialling.

Hopefully, no one is left behind in the transition to more automated, digitised workplaces. Australia, though, cannot reverse course; traditional manufacturing has all but died and with the nation debating the viability of coal-powered electricity (underlined by the imminent closure of the Hazelwood coal mine and power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley), Australia must continue to innovate and trade with international partners in a world economy that will become more uncertain as the Trump era begins. Now isn’t the time for politicians to ape Trump, especially when the technological disruptors outlined at CMIC16 will be integral to addressing Australia’s infrastructure challenges.

As we head into 2017, best wishes for the season!

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