​Innovation and Science Australia calls for a more 'urgent' innovation strategy

The independent body has said more work is needed to improve the country's innovation, science, and research system.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) has said Australia 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.

As a result, the independent body charged with researching, planning, and advising the government on all science, research, and innovation matters has called for an increase in the sense of urgency around Australian innovation.

The comments come following a performance review into Australia's current system, which highlighted that while it has points of strength, it is falling behind other nations.

In conducting the review, Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System 2016, 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.

"It is these activities that create the types of new goods and services that not only improve our lives -- think breakthrough medical technologies, environmentally friendly production techniques, and new ways of growing and storing our food -- but also provide economic growth and sustainable jobs," he said.

ISA's review suggested that Australia's poor performance in knowledge transfer and application may be partially explained by the country's low rates of collaboration and mobility among research institutions and businesses compared to the more innovative nations.

"The challenge of getting Australia into the top tier of innovation nations by 2030 must be seen as a significant national priority," Ferris said, noting that Australia has a predominantly incremental approach to innovation rather than a more radical approach, and as a result it is holding the country back.

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.

ISA is funded out of Turnbull's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which was unveiled in December 2015 to incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship, reward risk taking, and promote science, maths, and computing in schools.

"Australia is falling behind on measures of commercialisation and collaboration, consistently ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration," Turnbull admitted 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."

Since the inception of the innovation and science agenda, the minister responsible has changed three times, with newly appointed Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos assuming his new role last month.

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