Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) has thrown down the gauntlet to the government, issuing a “clarion call for national action” to see Australia become a top-tier innovation nation by 2030 in the release of its 2030 strategic plan [PDF].
Building on a review of Australia’s innovation system delivered last February, the much anticipated plan, Prosperity through Innovation: A plan for Australia to thrive in the global innovation race, details 30 key recommendations across five key areas: education, industry, government, research and development, and culture and ambition.
Highlighting Australia’s record 26 years of continuous economic growth in his foreword, ISA chair Bill Ferris wrote that while Australia has a history of innovation, it has also failed to “capture the full value” of inventions such as the heart pacemaker and black box flight recorder, all based on Australian research breakthroughs but commercialised overseas.
If Australia is to retain its economic streak, Ferris wrote, it must harness innovation to expand its economy, keep its workforce strong, and address societal challenges.
“Australia will need to be competitive in a global innovation race by scaling up more high-growth industries and companies; commercialising more high-value products and services; fostering great talent; and daring to tackle global challenges,” he stated.
“Yet just at the time when Australia needs to accelerate its innovation performance, we are falling behind our global peers, particularly in student performance in science and mathematics, and in business investment in research and development. This is more than a canary chirp in our economic mineshaft: it is a clarion call for national action.”
The five imperatives for action
With a Federal Government committee last June warning that the “quantity and quality” of Australia’s university STEM graduates is dependent on the quality of STEM education in schools – which isn’t relatively poor – ISA has identified two strategic opportunities for government in the space and made five related recommendations.
The strategic opportunities identified are that the teaching of STEM can be improved through improved development for teachers and school leaders, and education inequality can be reduced through targeted interventions; and Australia’s vocational education and training system can be made responsive to new priorities presented by innovation.
In looking to stimulate high-growth firms and improve productivity across industry, ISA has found five strategic opportunities for government, including better targeting the R&D Tax Incentive program to boost business investment in R&D and increasing support to direct grant programs that target national priorities; boosting competition to boost business productivity; and maintaining flexibility in skilled immigration rules to improve access to global talent pools and increase Australia’s profile as an “attractive destination for business builders”.
ISA believes government can become a catalyst for innovation and be recognised as a global leader in innovative service delivery, with five strategic opportunities identified.
These include further collaboration between Australian governments to create a more flexible regulatory environment; improving access to and usefulness of open data; using government procurement as a strategic lever to stimulate national innovation; and fostering greater ethnic and gender diversity and improving access to talent pools to boost Australia’s talent.
Research and development
To increase the commercialisation of research, ISA has listed a number of strategic opportunities, including the introduction of a collaboration premium in the R&D Tax Incentive to increase industry-research sector collaboration; establishing a dedicated stream of funding for translational activities to increase institutional support for commercialisation; and taking “measured and consultative approaches” to any intervention in the venture capital sector to support its growing momentum.
Culture and ambition
Perhaps the most difficult area to tackle is Australia’s innovation culture and ambition – or lack thereof, depending on who you ask.
To address this, ISA suggests the government launch ambitious ‘National Missions’.
In introducing the concept of the national mission, ISA stated that while the other imperatives – government, education, industry, and research and development – are important, “they do not operate in a vacuum” and that, rather, “each will play out against the backdrop of the national innovation culture…and for the whole 2030 Plan to be successful, that culture needs to evolve”.
Australia’s culture is made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, ISA noted, which means we need to start telling stories about our innovation to create a nation “that is galvanised around significant national challenges, and unafraid to tackle some of our biggest problems”. The inability to engage of mainstream Australia in the innovation mission was seen as a key failure of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) and its “ideas boom”-focused marketing, which generated more internet memes than startup ideas.
As such, ISA believes the government has an opportunity to use National Missions to accelerate Australian innovation and encourage more collaboration across the innovation system. What are they? “Large-scale initiatives, catalysed by governments, that are designed to address audacious challenges”.
The goal of a National Mission is to inspire innovators, develop solutions to big problems, and generate national passion and pride in innovation and science achievements – just like, ISA pointed out, building something like the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
The first National Mission suggested is using genomics and precision medicine to help Australia become the healthiest country on earth, with other suggestions including a mission to restore and preserve the Great Barrier Reef beyond 2030, and converting the gas supply of an entire Australian city from natural gas to clean hydrogen.
With NISA having been unveiled in late 2015, some in the startup ecosystem were waiting on last year’s Federal Budget for new innovation-focused measures; the government pointed out last year, however, that it was waiting on ISA’s 2030 strategic plan.
With 30 recommendations now put forward, new Minister for Innovation, Michaelia Cash welcomed the strategic plan, saying in a statement that the government will “carefully consider ISA’s recommendations and how it can build upon existing measures including those implemented under [NISA]”.
“Innovation is creating the jobs of tomorrow. Every Australian can benefit from and be innovative regardless of age or job, and for us to become a top tier innovation nation we need everyone to be involved,” she said.
Image: Bill Ferris. Source: The Advertiser.