​Australian government appoints chair of Innovation Australia

Private equity veteran Bill Ferris will chair Innovation Australia to help administer and oversee the government's innovation and venture capital programs.

The federal government has appointed Bill Ferris as chair of Innovation Australia, an independent body established by the government to push forward the country's innovation performance.

Ferris is the former chair of Austrade, and for 12 years was the chair of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. He is also a 45-year veteran of private equity, having founded Australia's first venture capital firm in 1970.

Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science, Christopher Pyne, said the government is committed to making innovation a key element of the economic agenda, including developing a specific innovation and science agenda.

"Boosting innovation and entrepreneurship will create jobs and stimulate growth, and will position Australian businesses to take advantage of new technologies and opportunities," he said.

Ferris has been appointed to the position for three years.

"Now with the Prime Minister's and Minister Pyne's expressed determination to make innovation core to the government's economic policies, I relish the opportunity as chair of Innovation Australia to assist in identifying what changes are necessary for meaningful improvement in commercialisation and how to best get on with it right away," Ferris said.

Next month the federal government is expected to unveil its innovation agenda, which will contain a set of policies focused on how Australia can attract and retain talent, as well as how the nation should support and encourage startups.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had previously said the innovation agenda is part of the government's commitment to deliver better jobs and greater opportunities.

"Across government, business, the labour movement, and the wider community, we need to have a grown-up discussion which first clarifies the policy goals and then identifies and removes any obstacles that may be hampering our capacity to generate growth, productivity, investment, and jobs," he said.

Historically, Turnbull has given prominence to issues hindering on the country's innovation, as a result increasing awareness of the issue. For example, in February during an opening speech at a National ICT Australia's event, he called for the country's schools to introduce IT skills to children as young as five years old.

Turnbull made a similar point in May when he admitted that education has gone backwards, revealing the numbers of students taking up STEM learning has dropped significantly.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector. 75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require STEM skills, but only half of year 12 students are studying science; that's down from 94 percent 20 years ago. That is really a retrograde development, and we have to turn that around," he said at the time.