Innovation policy is not just about the latest trends. It is about the future of Australia – for all of us.
It is also not just about backing a great idea or promoting the next cool initiative. It is about applying a thoughtful, integrated systems approach, fostering an environment where great ideas and cool initiatives thrive every day.
That’s the approach Labor took in government with our 10-year national innovation agenda, Powering Ideas. And it is still our approach today.
For Labor, innovation policy applies not just to a small section of the economy, but to every enterprise. It applies not just to industry, but to universities and TAFEs, research institutes, the public service and the community sector.
At the centre of our policy is a commitment to Australia as a science nation, as an entrepreneurial nation and an advanced manufacturing nation. These are different facets of the same initiative, directed at the same objective – our future national prosperity.
This philosophy is championed at the very top, by Labor’s leader Bill Shorten.
The challenge for an effective innovation agenda is to reshape the economy, industry by industry, to create the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future. To support an education system that delivers high quality training to workers who will fill those jobs. To nurture a research sector that supplies the insights, discoveries and solutions that drive it all.
That challenge intimidates many people – not least because, for the first time since the industrial revolution, technological change is projected to destroy more jobs than it creates.
The solution is not a repudiation of new technology, a retreat into wishful thinking, or anti-science prejudice.
The solution is system-wide engagement.
A Shorten Labor Government will work with all sectors of the economy to foster a culture of innovation; a culture that harnesses technological change and changes in business practice, to drive economic opportunity and participation.
Our ability to innovate, at an accelerated pace, will depend on our ability to train and attract talented people.
We need a strong research base providing a wellspring of technical know-how, with rich and deep connections to the global science enterprise.
Our children must have an education system that sets them up, not only to do the jobs of the future but to create the jobs of the future. They need career pathways from school, vocational education and higher education, into fulfilling and secure work.
Our economy needs a reliable source of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) whose skills employers value; a STEM-literate population that celebrates discovery and entrepreneurship; and a STEM workforce that appreciates and knows how to work with industry, the creative arts and the social sciences.
Our industries must foster entrepreneurs and innovators who embrace a culture of risk – assessing it, managing it and taking it.
We need businesses that invest in Australian enterprise. We need businesses that partner with researchers to bring new products to market and adopt new technologies to improve their operations.
All of these prerequisites for growth need a government that understands the urgency of change and encourages new ideas.
As we wrote in Powering Ideas:
“Innovation is not an abstraction. Nor is it an end in itself. It is how we make a better Australia, and contribute to making a better world – a prosperous, fair and decent world, in which everyone has the chance of a fulfilling life.”
But that is not happening here under the Liberals.
Under the Liberal Government, income inequality in Australia is the highest it has been for 70 years.
To reduce the level of inequality we need an innovative economy that embraces the challenges of modernity, and ensures that the benefits of our prosperity can be shared by all.
Labor knows that government has a crucial role in the innovation system.
The idea that you could build an innovation system without government is an illusion, held only by those who don’t understand how the most successful businesses of our time arose.
Virtually every significant discovery and technological breakthrough of the last hundred years and more was made on the back of research policies and investments put in place by governments.
Private technological development and commercialisation is almost always built on publicly funded fundamental research and development, typically using publicly funded research infrastructure – from the internet and global positioning systems, to the jet airplane, the Google search engine algorithm and magnetic resonance imaging.
This is the lesson of history. Public investment in research delivers private as well as public benefit, with a return many times greater than the cost.
Governments must not only encourage, they must enable, because there are some things that markets do not do well. Government is uniquely placed to create and entrench the conditions in which innovative businesses and institutions can thrive.
Labor and the Liberals have fundamentally different priorities – in innovation, industry, science and research, just as much as in education, health care or taxation.
What the Liberals present as innovation policy is just a host of bits and pieces, covering up billions of dollars in cuts. The Liberals have trashed our science and squandered our research potential, while other nations and advanced economies invest in the assets for growth.
To meet the challenges of the 21st century and transition our economy, Australia’s economic growth must be innovation-led. Only Labor is able to provide that leadership in government.
Unlike the Liberals, Labor understands that you can’t innovate by smooth-talking while slashing funding for education, science, research and industry.
You can’t innovate while stripping universities of resources, jacking up fees and saddling students with a lifetime of debt.
You can’t innovate while denigrating the expertise of our globally recognised scientists, our world-class teachers and our adventurous creative talent.
You can’t innovate while abandoning manufacturing, destroying the very capabilities that we need to remain a high-wage economy and create the jobs of the future.
Labor will always defend our public universities and training institutes. We will always defend students and workers. We will always defend science and research. We will always defend manufacturing.
We will ensure that the interests of firms, industry groups, universities and scientists are shared with one another and progressed across all areas of government.
A coordinated approach of this kind is a systems approach.
It is Labor’s approach.
Labor's full innovation platform can be found here.