Australian Parliament opens inquiry into innovation

The Standing Committee on Education and Employment has opened an inquiry to ensure Australia's tertiary system can meet the needs of a future labour force that is focused on innovation and creativity.

The Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment has initiated an inquiry into Australia's international competitiveness when it comes to innovation and creativity.

The inquiry, Innovation and creativity: a workforce for the new economy, initially referred by the Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham, is slated to investigate how to best facilitate and coordinate investment in research, commercialisation, and skills to promote "new and emerging" innovative and creative industries.

According to the committee, such industries include medical research and biotechnology, software development, clean energy, agri-business, food processing, finance, tourism, and education.

"Australia's international competitiveness in the post mining boom economy will depend on our capacity to promote and meet the workforce demands of innovative and creative industries," Committee chair Andrew Laming said.

The committee said it will inquire into and report on matters that ensure Australia's tertiary system can meet the needs of a future labour force that is focused on innovation and creativity.

The terms of reference state the committee will examine the extent to which students are graduating with the skills needed for the jobs of the future, as well as matters relating to laws and regulations that may act as a barrier to education providers being able to offer qualifications that meet the needs of the new economy and fastest growing sectors.

The committee said it will also investigate factors that discourage closer partnerships between industry, in particular small and medium enterprises, the research sector, and education providers which will include intellectual property, technology transfer, and rapid commercialisation.

Relationships between tertiary education entrepreneurship programs and private incubator and accelerators is also on the committee's agenda.

According to Laming, Australia is lagging behind other developed countries in terms of innovation performance.

"The Global Innovation Index has Australia ranked at number 17 in the world when it comes to our ability to innovate. Compared with other similar nations, Australia has a long way to go if we want to catch up and be able to support our future labour force," Laming said.

"Education is the strongest link when it comes to innovation and creativity. Our ability to deliver this effectively, in conjunction with industry for industry, is the premise of this inquiry."

The Senate Economics References Committee also weighed in on the innovation debate, offering the federal government five recommendations in December on how to tackle innovation.

The recommendations focused mainly on the reworking and stability of existing policies and procedures that impact innovation, as well as the importance of education in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and also science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

"Nations at all levels of development have therefore put a premium on boosting innovation potential, through the quality of their knowledge infrastructure," Australia's former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb said in his submission to the Senate. "Many have strategies that target public investment to identified areas of priority and comparative advantage."

Previously, Chubb said the key to a successful entrepreneurial economy is the close involvement of the country's universities, adding that entrepreneurship is a human endeavour and is thus inseparable from education, not independent of it.

"Australians aren't short of talent but we need to get better at turning our creativity into successful products and services," he said. "To be a more innovative country we need to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset at every level of education -- starting in schools, continuing in higher study and enduring throughout working lives."

"In popular culture the entrepreneur is the rogue genius who succeeds without -- or in spite of -- education. And it would be extremely convenient if that were true," Chubb said. "If we cannot teach entrepreneurship, we can only recognise the born entrepreneurs, and get out of their way whilst they get on with the business of change."

In December, the Labor party called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Australian government's proposed crowdfunding legislation, which was released earlier the same day.

In a joint statement from Shadow Parliamentary Secretary assisting with digital innovation and startups, Ed Husic, and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, the Labor duo accused the government of intentionally waiting until the last day of parliament for the year to sneak in legislation.

"The release of the legislation confirms industry concerns that startups will be forced to wear high costs and red-tape if they want to use equity crowdfunding as a capital pathway for early stage innovation," the statement said.

"Labor appreciates that equity crowdfunding reform is complex, which is why we have repeatedly stated our genuine preparedness to work cooperatively and in a bipartisan way with the government on any draft legislation.

"This is evidence that the Abbott-Turnbull government is simply all talk when it comes to building a collaborative, bipartisan approach to innovation."

The newly introduced legislation details how non-listed public companies, including startups, can access crowdsourced equity funding from external investors.

In December, the federal government unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which included a AU$110 million investment in STEM.

The agenda covers over 20 measures focusing on four key areas: Culture and capital to help businesses embrace risk and incentivise early stage startup investment; collaboration to increase engagement between businesses, universities, and the research sector; talent and skills to train students for the jobs of the future and attract innovative talent from abroad; and for the government to lead by example by investing in, and using technology and data to deliver better quality services.

"Australia is falling behind on measures of commercialisation and collaboration, consistently ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time. "Our appetite for risk is lower than in comparable countries, which means Australian startups and early stage businesses often fail to attract capital to grow."

The Standing Committee on Education and Employment said that it intends to work closely to complement the Innovation Agenda.

"The committee's inquiry will highlight the opportunities and the barriers to be overcome if Australia's creative and innovative industries are to collaborate effectively and develop the necessary culture, capital, talent and skills," Laming said.

"These key themes are the focus of the Turnbull government's Innovation Agenda."

The committee is currently accepting submissions addressing the terms of reference with submissions due by March 11, 2016.

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