​Innovation and Science Australia calls on government to be 'innovation exemplar'

As a service provider, employer, investor, regulator, and leader, governments will play an integral part in ensuring Australia's innovation-related success, Innovation and Science Australia has said.

The federal government has tasked Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) with developing a plan that will put Australia in a position as a leading "innovation nation" by 2030.

In its 2030 Strategic Plan Issues paper, the independent body charged with researching, planning, and advising the government on all science, research, and innovation matters highlighted six challenges it sees as central to shaping the strategy, with one placing the Australian government at the centre of everything innovation.

"As a service provider, employer, investor, regulator, and leader, government plays a significant role in the lives of all Australians," the paper [PDF] says. "Government is also an integral part of Australia's national innovation system with research agencies being a major contributor to the generation of new knowledge. Our public institutions must become synonymous with innovation to provide its citizens with ever greater public value."

By 2030, ISA said it wants to see a federal government that has led by example, expecting that unlocking the innovation potential of public entities will produce benefits both inside and outside public service.

To achieve this, ISA said the government will need to embrace innovation and be, as its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda states, an exemplar that sets new global benchmarks for best practice.

As government spending represents a significant share of Australia's gross domestic product (GDP), ISA recommends the government reduce the cost of doing business with it, by, for example, simplifying procurement and compliance obligations.

Last week, Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor revealed the government's plans to be rid of provider panels, saying that in order for the Commonwealth to make good on its promise to undergo a digital transformation, it needs to change the way it procures products and services.

"If we want to transform the digital government sector in Australia, the most important thing we can do is be a better customer," the assistant minister told journalists during a briefing.

"We've got to get our act together. We've got to create smaller, more modular projects, and we've got to reduce the barriers to entry through the current panel process."

In addition, ISA believes the government must continually examine the value being delivered to the Australian public, and seek to be "dynamic and innovative" in the way it achieves this.

Focusing on identifying trends and opportunities, rather than predicting outcomes, ISA said research bodies such as the CSIRO have identified several trends believed to play a significant role in shaping the future, with the primary forces behind such trends traced back to technology, globalisation, and demographic change.

"These forces are not new, but they are evolving rapidly. Each time they evolve, new megatrends are generated," ISA wrote. "Understanding the root causes of megatrends allows us to identify the interactions between and take advantage of the rapidly changing environment -- even as new megatrends emerge."

Current megatrends according to the innovation body include: Changes in global economic power -- the rise of China and India, that ISA expects will result in Australia building new export markets, trade relations, and cultural ties; industry convergence, which has combined sectors historically working independent of one another; the future workforce, driven by automation and a shift in employee skillsets; resource scarcity, brought upon by a growth in global population; continued urbanisation, which will also spark a rapid uptake in smart city technology; and a reinvented healthcare segment, thanks to an ageing population that will live longer than in the past.

As a result, another challenge raised by ISA is encouraging Australian startups and enterprises to break into international markets, as well as facilitating the ability for private sector to work with the country's science and research base.

It wants to see more interaction between Australia's research system and the end-user of a product or service being developed.

The innovation body also wants to see "high-quality and relevant" education and skills development for Australians, which includes training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-based subjects from an early age in schools.

ISA also wants to see more "bold", high-impact innovations emerge from Australia, such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which is slated to be the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.

Last month, ISA called for a more urgent approach to innovation in Australia, noting that the country is lagging behind international competitors and that there is a lot of work to be done in order to break into the top tier of innovative nations.

The comments followed a review into Australia's current system, in which ISA determined the country's performance on three areas: How well Australia creates knowledge; how well the country transfers that knowledge to different parts of the system; and how well businesses apply knowledge in developing new goods and services and how it takes them to market.

"As a nation we're good at creating knowledge but simply not good enough at transferring or applying it," chair of Innovation Australia Bill Ferris said. "In both our number of researchers per capita and the proportion of highly-cited publications we produce, we sit in the top 10 internationally."

Despite sitting in the top 10, Ferris said Australia is performing relatively poorly in terms of transferring its knowledge and ultimately applying it.

"The challenge of getting Australia into the top tier of innovation nations by 2030 must be seen as a significant national priority," Ferris added.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull established ISA in November 2015, announcing Ferris, the 45-year veteran of private equity, as the chairman to lead the future direction of the country's innovation.

Former program director for the University of Melbourne's Carlton Connect initiative Dr Charles Day joined Ferris -- and Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who was announced in March as deputy chair -- as ISA's CEO the following November.

The ISA board also consists of Maile Carnegie, ANZ group executive digital banking and former CEO of Google Australia & New Zealand; Scott Farquhar, co-founder and CEO of Australian startup darling Atlassian; Daniel Petre from AirTree capital ventures; Paul Bassat, co-founder of SEEK and Square Peg Capital; Dr Chris Roberts from ResMed; and Dr Michele Allan, chancellor of Charles Sturt University.

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