Innovation rhetoric on the agenda for the Commonwealth in 2016

The federal government will begin the year with an innovation engagement campaign after research found more than half of Australians believe the nation needs to take more risks when it comes to being innovative.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Sixty-four percent of Australians believe the nation needs to take more risks to get innovative, according to the Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne.

Research carried out for the minister's department found less than five percent of respondents consider Australia to be a global leader when it comes to innovation, despite Pyne calling home-grown developments such as the Cochlear Implant and Wi-Fi as having reshaped the world.

Additionally, the research found that 77 percent of Australians believe innovation is not just for the technology industry. Pyne said the majority of respondents consider advancements in health to be the most important reason for Australia to innovate, followed by jobs and better living standards.

Pyne said this latest research has been used to develop an Australian government public information and community engagement campaign, which will support the AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda that was unveiled in December.

"Australia needs to grasp new ideas in innovation and science, identify and capitalise on new opportunities and create new sources of growth to secure our nation's future," Pyne said.

"This campaign, developed using the research, will be designed to help change the culture around innovation and science in our businesses and engage young people to help inspire our future entrepreneurs.

"It will also raise awareness across the board about grants and new capital raising measures to any Australian wanting to take a risk on a new business venture."

According to Pyne, the research also highlighted the need to reinforce to students and parents how education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can open doors to new and different career opportunities in the future.

As part of the country's innovation agenda, the federal government pledged AU$51 million in a bid to help students in Australia embrace the digital age and prepare for the jobs of the future, along with AU$48 million to inspire STEM literacy, and AU$13 million to encourage women to take up roles in the STEM sectors.

A focus on STEM has become a hot topic on both sides of Australian politics, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull focusing on the idea even before he came to power less than six months ago.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector," Turnbull said previously.

"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."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also previously highlighted the importance of STEM education in schools and universities in Australia, pledging a total of AU$2.5 billion for future jobs, with a focus on STEM; as well as a AU$17.8 million startup initiative he hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators.

Pyne said on Wednesday the engagement campaign is an important measure of the innovation agenda and has been designed to not only raise awareness but drive a culture change to embrace risk-taking and entrepreneurship that he believes is essential to achieving an innovative country.

"Culture is one of the agenda's four pillars because Australia must make the cultural shift to being a nation that is more inclined to take a chance on its ideas," Pyne said. "The research shows businesses in general can identify more reasons to not innovate than to innovate. The campaign will encourage businesses to overcome this natural resistance."

Last month, Turnbull said that despite his confidence, he cannot guarantee the success of the innovation agenda's policies. He said if the initiatives do not succeed, they will be changed with lessons learnt.

"That is what a 21st century government must do," he said. "It has got to be as agile as the startup businesses it seeks to inspire."

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