Government has a fundamental role in fostering innovation. That was the consensus view of witnesses who gave evidence to the Senate inquiry into Australia’s innovation system in Sydney yesterday.
Shadow Minister for Innovation and Industry Kim Carr said the evidence given yesterday shows what the Abbott Government has never understood: that Australia’s economy and its innovation system are one and the same.
While other nations are making long term investments to move economic activity up the value chain and support the development of new technologies, the Abbott Government has massively cut funding for science, research and innovation across the board - and has nothing even vaguely resembling an innovation policy.
The Committee heard from a range of experts – from the university sector, the ICT industry, start-ups and entrepreneurs, advanced manufacturing and venture capitalists.
Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney, said Australia has the perfect opportunity to take home-grown innovations to the world stage but that without the right policy settings our innovation system will not reach its full potential.
Jennifer Conley, Executive Director of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council, said that without manufacturing Australia is just a one trick pony - echoing a point made by Professor Brungs, who describes advanced manufacturing as an absolutely critical part of Australia’s future.
The Chief Executive of the Australian Information Industry Association, Suzanne Campbell, told the inquiry that innovation is the primary driver of higher Australian living standards but that cuts to government programs have undermined the nation's potential.
Ms Campbell said that 80 per cent of Australia’s research efforts derives from public research institutions such as CSIRO and NICTA, and that cuts to these agencies have disadvantaged future generations of Australians in the global race for innovation and jobs.
As Chris Nave, the Principal Executive of the Medical Research and Commercialiation Fund noted, winning this global competition will require the development of new sunrise industries off the back of excellent science and research.
Yet a report released this week from the not-for-profit group StartupAUS shows how little the Abbott Government had done for start-up companies.
The Government has yet to understand that commodity exports alone are not sufficient to secure our prosperity. Australia needs an innovation strategy and a plan to create the high-tech, high-skill and high-wage industries and jobs of the future.
Labor initiated the inquiry to fill the Abbott Government’s policy vacuum on science, research and innovation. More than 170 submissions have so far been received which, along with the public hearings, will form the basis of the Committee's deliberations.
Labor is taking this inquiry seriously and will continue to work with stakeholders to develop a strong and sustainable national innovation agenda.