Innovation and Science Australia calls for the nation to up its level of ambition

The laid back attitude Australia is famous for isn't the best foundation for a country that needs to boost its innovation and commercialisation, a report from Innovation and Science Australia has highlighted.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) has re-issued a warning to the nation in its latest report: Australia needs to accelerate its pace now to catch the leaders of the innovation pack, or risk falling further behind.

Australia 2030: Prosperity through innovation - A plan for Australia to thrive in the global innovation race, explains that Australia lags behind its competitor nations in the amount invested in innovation, and in the level of ambition.

In total, the report [PDF] makes 30 recommendations grouped under five sub-headings: Education, industry, government, research and development, and culture and ambition.

A lot of the information in the report are tropes that the ISA and any innovation body before it has been preaching for years -- that Australia needs to up its game when it comes to innovating and commercialising research the country is good at conducting.

The education header places heavy focus on the importance of teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in schools, with reports claiming for years that young Australians are ill-prepared for the digital economy that stands before them.

See also: Australia's TAFE institutions to offer cybersecurity qualifications

According to ISA, Australia's ageing population means a retirement "boom" is looming, which will create a 6 percent shortfall in the number of workers needed to maintain current gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2030.

As such, the likes of automation will help fill Australia's future labour gap, by improving productivity and performing tasks workers do not want, or need, to do.

In addition, ISA reaffirms the skills people will need to do their jobs will also evolve.

ISA highlights that 92 percent of future jobs will need digital skills, and 45 percent of jobs will need people who can configure and work confidently with digital systems and technology.

"More jobs will demand 21st-century skills, such as interpersonal skills, entrepreneurialism, and hypothesis-based problem solving," the report explains. "People will also change jobs more frequently. An Australian student leaving school today is likely to have five careers and 17 jobs over their working life."

As called for by a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training previously, ISA wants to up-skill teachers and better prepare the country's vocational education and training system for a digital future.

This involves improving the quality and content of teacher development programs, which includes a nationally-agreed minimum number of annual hours in discipline-specific training.

It also wants the schooling systems to teach "21st-century skills", prepare kids sufficiently for post-school life, and improve transparency and accountability across the system by raising the ambition of the national minimum standards in National Assessment Program -- Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

Where industry is concerned, ISA wants to ensure Australia's ongoing prosperity by stimulating "high-growth firms and improving productivity".

With Australia's ability to research but not commercialise again highlighted, ISA chair -- and founder of Australia's first venture capital firm in 1970 -- Bill Ferris believes innovation will be integral to the "expansion of Australia's economy, keeping its workforce strong, and addressing societal challenges". To ISA, this means creating more high-growth industries and companies, as well as commercialising more products and services.

"This is more than a canary chirp in our economic mineshaft: It is a clarion call for national action," Ferris wrote in his foreword.

Taking a leaf out of a Silicon Valley buzzword book, ISA said the biggest growth opportunities for Australia will come from "knowledge intensive" companies that "innovate and export", as they are the most profitable, competitive, and productive.

"These companies will increasingly need to solve global problems at scale," the report adds.

One recommendation is for Australia to increase efforts to help young businesses and small and medium enterprises to access export markets.

The forthcoming Digital Economy Strategy should prioritise the development of advanced capability in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the medium- to long-term to ensure growth of the cyber-physical economy, ISA also recommends.

With government organisations like Austrade facilitating Australia's talent exportation to global markets, ISA wants to also update skilled immigration rules.

A less strict regulatory environment for innovation to occur is also something ISA wants to see happen.

After previously calling on the federal government to be an innovation exemplar in the issues paper published in March, ISA highlighted again that government needs to become a catalyst for innovation and be recognised as a global leader in innovative service delivery.

See also: Service NSW wants to share technology for cross-border service delivery

Key to ISA's plan for government is the creation of a flexible regulatory environment that supports innovation, which it said can be achieved by governments across the country working together.

It said national innovation can be stimulated by using government procurement as a strategic lever and that the use of open data would be accelerated by improving access and usefulness.

One recommendation suggests the establishment of protocols -- including consumer data rights -- for maintaining "healthy levels of competition in knowledge-intensive industry sectors".

See also: Australians will own their banking and internet data under new legislation

With the 457 visa now scrapped, ISA said the Australian government's Skilling Australians Fund is a "novel and potentially valuable approach to supporting the vocational education and training of Australian workers into the future, and should be seen as part of a portfolio of measures which complement skilled immigration programs".

ISA believes Australia's innovation investment and talent can be strengthened by improving access to global talent pools and fostering greater gender and ethnic diversity.

The innovation body wants the establishment of a small and medium enterprise (SME) procurement target of 33 percent of contracts by dollar value being awarded to Australian SMEs by 2022 -- already on the agenda for the Commonwealth.

ISA wants the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to improve citizen satisfaction with government services. It also wants the DTA charged with reporting on the "effectiveness and efficiency of the use of digital technologies and the improvement of service delivery", using automation, advanced analytics, and service delivery dashboards to monitor and evaluate the impact of spending.

A further recommendation is to conduct a review of the Australian Government Public Service with the aim of "enabling a greater role and capability for innovation in policy development, implementation, and service delivery".

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is already taking steps to modernise the government's workforce.

ISA believes that by targeting the R&D Tax Incentive program and increasing support for direct grant programs that target national priorities, Australia can up its GDP.

It has recommended the government adhere to the recommendations made by the review of the R&D Tax Incentive.

The report recommends Australia embark on a "national mission" to help make the country the "healthiest nation on Earth" and adopt a framework to continue to identify and implement additional national missions.

The two final recommendations made by ISA ask for the development of a more "effective framework to evaluate the performance of Australia in the innovation race in an effective and timely manner" and to support the development of a "suite of innovation metrics and methodologies to fully capture innovation and link it to economic, social, and environmental benefits" -- something ISA asked for almost a year ago.


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