Productivity and job growth driven by innovation is key: Pyne

Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne believes investment in innovation is the key to Australia's competitiveness, jobs growth, and continual living standards.

Productivity growth, driven by innovation, is the key to Australia's future, according to the Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne.

Speaking at the Australian Technology Network (ATN) Advanced Manufacturing Industry and Collaboration Forum in Victoria, the newly appointed minister said Australia has the infrastructure to lead the world in research and innovation, adding he believes the researchers, universities, and institutions like CSIRO and Questacon have the ability to underpin this.

Pyne believes national income is under pressure as a result of the "winding down" of the resources boom. He said with commodity prices softening, our economy is in transition.

Citing the imminent closures of Ford, Holden, and Toyota, Pyne said the future looks particularly difficult.

"The Government is well aware of the reality for many machinery and equipment manufacturers affected by declining mining investment. Productivity growth is the key to competitiveness, jobs growth, and ultimately our living standards; in turn it's driven by innovation," he said.

"The Australian Government is creating the environment to commercialise the research through our Cooperative Research Centres and Industry Growth Centres; we're also providing business focused support."

With investment on the agenda, Pyne said Australia needs to create a new legacy.

Citing the IP toolkit for collaboration, Pyne said collaboration with research partners is important as more intense global competition drastically shortens product lifecycles, thus requiring a business to develop new offerings more quickly. He said innovation has become more complex and costly, which requires more diverse knowledge inputs, and added that the need for collaboration is fundamental as businesses which have a speciality need to look outside for expertise.

The toolkit [PDF] released earlier this month by the Department of Industry and Science in partnership with IP Australia outlines practices on how to increase the effectiveness of collaboration, strengthen relationships for ongoing collaboration, and tackle intellectual property.

"Businesses can benefit from collaboration through translating business needs, concepts, and ideas into fit-for-purpose products, processes, and services for improving market competitiveness and growth," the toolkit said. "They can also benefit from a raised company profile, and the potential for increased profit based on a competitive advantage."

"[The Toolkit will] help smooth out any wrinkles in intellectual property issues when developing collaborations between industry and researchers," Pyne added.

The minister used mobile health technology startup Global Kinetics Corporation's KinetiGraph offering to highlight industry and public researcher collaboration.

In May, the Parkinson's disease management device raised AU$1.5 million in a funding round from equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd; and the Australian manufactured product is approved for sale in the US, Europe, and Asia.

"It's important that we continue economic reform targeted at success," Pyne said. "Therefore we must promote productivity and competitive markets by providing a stable macroeconomic environment and effective, light touch regulation."

Pyne said the Government needs to encourage industry and researchers to collaborate and foster entrepreneurship.

"Overall, the agenda plays to our strengths and tackles the critical issues facing Australian businesses to build our long term economic growth and prosperity," he said.

"[We need to] improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, from preschool through to employment, and increase workforce skills and infrastructure investment."

Last week, Pyne said driving innovation is important for jobs and growth. He said that whilst the Liberal Government wants to encourage ideas for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, they need to be good ideas. He said for the past two years, his party has worked to drive innovation, and admitted, however, there is much more to be done. He also added that more would be said in the months ahead.

Pyne's remarks followed an announcement made earlier that day by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who pledged AU$17.8 million for a startup initiative he hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators. He said he wants 2,000 students to partake in a 'Startup Year' whilst at university to "develop their ideas, get business know-how, and connect with finance", adding that whilst Australia has some "great startups", the country currently has one of the lowest rates of startup formation in the world.

"It is estimated that we will need another 100,000 IT workers in Australia by 2020," Shorten said. "Labor wants Australians to have the skills and support to create the jobs of the future, not just fill them; the majority of jobs to be created over the next decade and beyond will be in companies that don't exist today."

The Labour Party leader has now pledged a total investment of AU$2.5 billion to Australian universities in a bid to drive productivity and growth, and deliver its "jobs of the future" pre-election commitment, prioritising study in STEM at Australian universities, as well as coding in schools.

"75 percent of the fastest growing occupations today require skills in STEM and employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations," Shorten said. "We want to make sure young Australians have the skills to fill those jobs and drive the new economy through their knowledge, innovation, and creativity."

Pyne believes innovation has to be more than a political buzzword adding: "It's the only option for our economy if we are to maintain our current standard of living".

"While Labor appears to have a sudden new found desire to promote innovation in Australia, a better start would be for them to support the China Free Trade Agreement; the Labor Party should work with the Government to help create the jobs for the future and the China Free Trade Agreement is critical for job creation."

Pyne said the Government is currently promoting entrepreneurship with a package of initiatives under the Entrepreneurs Programme, which he said works on business management, building connections between researchers and businesses, and helping commercialise "good ideas" through a network of facilitators and advisers.

"Since the program began just over a year ago, it's delivered more than 500 business evaluations and provided AU$2.6 million in assistance through 64 grants," he said.

"We have many strengths to build on in both public and private innovation," he said. "The recent development of a titanium sternum and rib implant in a collaboration between Anatomics and Lab 22, CSIRO's 3D printing facility at Clayton, just shows the potential of collaboration between industry and science, and 3D printing itself."

According to the minister, the CSIRO is also refocussing its commitment to building stronger connections with industry to encourage the application of research, with a spotlight on driving improvements in Australia's economic competitiveness.

Last month, the merger of the digital productivity arm of the CSIRO with National ICT Australia (NICTA) was announced, to "supercharge" Australia's technological advancements. The merger will form Data61, named after Australia's international calling code, +61, signifying a globally-based mindset for the new organisation.

Last week, the University of Melbourne (UOM) announced a partnership with the San Francisco-based Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center. The partnership is expected to facilitate student exchange, alumni networking, and future program development.

"Leveraging research excellence, and a rich supply of smart, imaginative and well educated talent, Melbourne is on the ascendancy for entrepreneurship and a vibrant start-up culture," Pyne said of the partnership.

Recently, the UOM's entrepreneurship program, the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), was voted 13th best in the world. According to Vice-Chancellor of the UOM, Professor Glyn Davis, the agreement with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is a step in allowing entrepreneurial culture to expand.

"Entrepreneurship at Melbourne is the seed that is driving a rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem and startup culture across our university and in this city," Davis said. "In 2016 a dedicated Masters in Entrepreneurship will commence at the university and this partnership is a global step to allow this thriving entrepreneurial culture to further grow."

According to UOM, over AU$5 million in revenue and over 120 jobs has been generated by MAP startups since 2012.

"The Advanced Manufacturing Precinct here at RMIT [Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology] has been, and I'm sure will continue to be, another major driver of collaborative innovation in this region," Pyne said. "Collaborating on innovation will be a critical enabler in the transformation of industry to become the producer of the goods and services of the future."

The minister also said the R&D Tax Incentive is an essential element of the Government's agenda, adding that it provides tax relief of almost AU$3 billion to more than 13,000 Australian companies.

According to Pyne, the incentive is under review as part of the Tax White Paper to ensure it is operating efficiently and effectively.