Increased collaboration, stability of policy and acceleration of commercialisation are three main drivers of innovation and job growth that must be addressed to accelerate Australia’s economy in the next 15 years.
The top three drivers were identified at the AFR National Innovation Summit today by Chairs of the boards of Telstra, BHP Billiton and Innovation and Science Australia.
The panel warned that fears around the effects of disruption on jobs must be part of the conversation, and that the effects of digital disruption through automation, and artificial intelligence were inevitable.
This disruption will affect people and jobs whether they are “in Woomera or Sydney”, says Bill Ferris, Chair of the board of Innovation and Science Australia.
“In five years we’ve seen the rise of Uber and Instagram, and the collapse of the mining boom. What is coming towards us will dwarf the change of pace [in disruption] to date,” says Dr Nora Scheinkestel, Chairman of Macquarie Atlas Roads and Director of Telstra Corporation and Stocklands Group.
Policy and R&D tax incentives
Crucial to Australia’s ability to innovate is the stability of policy such as the R&D tax incentive, which aims to encourage private investment in Australian R&D.
Along with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Bill Ferris was part of a team that reviewed the incentive for government to evaluate how much investment the incentive has created and the scheme’s effectiveness.
“I agree it is valuable and should be continued,” says Ferris. “Can it be improved? I think so. It’s been a $3 million cheque and the largest there has been. But there is nothing in the scheme that requires collaboration, whether CSIRO or academia.”
Incentivising collaboration is a no-brainer next step, says Ferris.
“I don’t think business is trying as hard as academia. Universities are getting on with business, creating spin-offs like QUT’s Spinifex, and Ian Fraser’s cancer vaccine. It’s very impressive.”
Stability of the R&D investment scheme is key to its success, says Carolyn Hewson AO, Director, BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee.
Hewsen says BHP Billiton was ‘deeply’ affected as a company by the collapse of the mining boom this year. “Every company is under pressure to innovate.” (See “How big companies can innovate)
“There is a role for government to address the KPIs they set around research funding.
KPIs need to move to speed of commercialisation rather than publication in tier 1 journals.”
“My concern is it is very easy for government with 3-year time horizon to make decisions on funding over a long term investment. Research projects extend out many years. To be subject to be changing regulation of government regulated by short-term political cycle is very worrying.”
How big companies can innovate
– Carolyn Hewson AO, Director of BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee
- Hastening production
- Accelerating technology competencies
- Innovation hubs working to address innovative solution to specific challenges, eg. automation of trucks and drills
- Step-up programs to build from the inside of the company
- Partnerships with universities and CSIRO, CRCs on engineering and remote operations
Collaborate and commercialise for job growth
Ferris is optimistic about Australia’s ability to respond to the challenge to grow jobs by 2030. Agribusiness, aquaculture, cybersecurity, environmental services, renewables, and new materials were all strong potential job growth areas, he says.
“A lot more work needs to be done by business on reaching in. If we can’t commercialise around our inventiveness we won’t create the jobs that we could and that we deserve.”
Scheinkestel says the ecosystem is essential to drive innovation and job growth.
“The big message from Israel is the ecosystem created between business and academia, and in their case the military, where young people are taught strong leadership skills. They commercialise or adapt tech they have been looking at, get the backing of VC, which are supported by consistent policies from government around tax regimes.
“Again in Silicon Valley, you are talking about an ecosystem, a constellation of start-ups with shared resources and again consistency in policies and tax incentives.”
Hewson agrees that work skills are essential to our future and that there is concern about workforce skills in Australia across a number of advanced manufacturing, mining and medical sectors.
“We want to enhance global competitiveness and build on strategic collaboration within these sectors,” she says.
“It’s not just about growth, it’s about survival,” adds Scheinkestel.
– Heather Catchpole