Australia faces a challenging period in shifting towards an ‘innovation economy’, with a drive towards greater participation in science and technology; an increased focus on commercialisation success; and partnering research with industry. But how will we get there?
In this unique series, leaders from government, industry and academia share their vision for Australia’s innovation future, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Telstra’s CTO Vish Nandlall, CEO of AusBiotech Anna Lavelle, entrepreneur, surgeon and inventor Fiona Woods, Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinksy, and the Vice Chancellors from QUT, Peter Coaldrake, and Western Sydney Uni Barney Glover, and many more.
Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australia’s Innovation Future, here. Commentaries will be published throughout the week.
The path forward
There is no doubt that Australian R&D often punches far above its weight for the size of the nation’s population. But for too long Australian invention has stalled at the crucial points in moving research from lab to marketplace. From a nation of thinkers, there has been too little product. Buoyed by the rich resources in the landscape, we have rested on our laurels, riding the sheep’s back or relying on our mineral wealth.
There are notable exceptions. Most Australians, for example, are familiar with the success of the cochlear implant, invented by Professor Graeme Clark and pioneered with a team of surgeons at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. This clever little device is now distributed in over 120 countries and has helped over 320,000 hearing-impaired patients. In the inaugural 2016 Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off list, this and other less familiar success stories – including companies just starting to make their mark – were noted and celebrated.
In December 2015, the Turnbull government pushed an agenda on innovation – the so-called #ideas boom. The innovation agenda clearly indicates that Australia must move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. It highlights the poor track record of research commercialisation, and low rates of collaboration between industry and research organisations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rates Australia as last or second last on the level of collaboration against other developed nations. So how much further forward does the ideas boom push us, and what more can be done?
The December 2015 agenda throws $1.1 billion towards steps to address stagnation in research commercialisation and business growth in STEM. This includes $200 million industry incentive to work with the CSIRO and Australian universities, and a 20% non-refundable tax offset for early stage investors. There’s also money for Australian businesses looking to relocate overseas, bonuses for universities collaborating and resources allocated towards raising awareness of the importance of STEM in education.
While the money sounds great, transitioning towards a knowledge economy is more than just a fiscal move – it requires a fundamental shift in the notion of what it is to be Australian. The pathway towards this mental reimagining is far from clear, and will involve people in business, education, research and communication industries to change their thinking, develop ideas and set in motion a totally different model of achievement.
In this thought leadership series, those stepping up to deliver on this challenge describe their vision of science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine – in the way we do the research and in how we benefit from these fields – to describe their first step towards this brave new world. – Heather Catchpole
Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australian Innovation Future, here.
Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia
Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech
Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT
Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network
Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia
Dr Cathy Foley, Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Materials Science and Engineering
Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group
Vish Nandlall, Chief Technology Officer of Telstra
Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and the Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia
Everyday this week
John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council
Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting
Kim McKay AO, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Museum
Philip Livingston, Founder and Managing Director of Redback Technologies