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Australian Innovation Policy… Where the bloody hell are you?


Every government will say its ‘commitment to innovation’ is second-to-none.

Every government will jump at the chance to demonstrate this ‘commitment’, citing numerous initiatives that invariably trump those of the administration that came before it.

This is because the effects of policy on innovation are extremely hard to measure and because ‘innovation’ as a concept (for the purpose of fuelling economic growth) is likely to attract about as many critics as CEO pay cuts (i.e. none).

But it’s been…

  • 26 months since Kevin ‘07 was handed the Prime Ministerial baton;
  • 25 months since Senator Kim Carr announced his Review of the National Innovation System;
  • 21 months since Commercial Ready was ‘axed’;
  • 17 months since Terry Cutler handed down the outcomes of Venturous Australia;
  • three months since the recommendations of the report found some semblance of form in Commercialisation Australia;
  • two months since most of learned that COMET would be wound up by 31 December 2009; and,
  • one month since the Australian Treasury released its Exposure Draft to reform the R&D Tax Incentive, seeking feedback by 5 February.

Yesterday was Australia Day and I can’t think of a more opportune time to reflect and make a dinky-di effort to evaluate the performance of our national leaders, as advocates and reformers of Australia’s innovation agenda.

I do this for three reasons.

  1. Because no one else has… yet.
  2. Because ‘she’ll be right’ is not an Australian sentiment I adhere to.
  3. Because Anthill turns seven this year (that’s 21 in dog years) and I’m sick of seeing so many of our founding goals trend in the wrong direction.

Who’s carrying Australian innovation?

Yesterday was an important day for many Australians.

It offered an opportunity to celebrate our achievements as a nation. It reminded us to be thankful that we live in an open and transparent democracy. It provided a symbol of hope and optimism to all those who have recently called Australia their home.

Yet, this day also invariably raises questions about economic strengths and weaknesses, our place in the global marketplace and the role of government.

While most Australians will have enjoyed the wonderful economic prosperity that digging things out of the ground can bring (while there’s still a market in China) and enjoyed the fat of our land, grilled and shish-kebabed (when not exported to the Middle East), a minority — a rarely celebrated part of our ‘cultural mix’ — used the rare solace of a national public holiday to work on that thing often described as ‘innovation’.

I know this because about 1,287 of this small set visited our website.

Of course, I’m talking about the technologists, web programmers, engineers, scientists, back-yard inventors, business owners — Australians driven by the process of creation. Sure, this group is also motivated by the possibility of eventual financial rewards but that is not what inspires these pioneers to pour their heart and soul into their innovations — from incremental improvements to game-changing devices and technologies.

They do what they do because they see a future in making things better. And the sum of their outcomes, whether each individual innovation is commercially successful or not, is a smarter, more enriched and, hopefully, prosperous country for us all.

This is why, over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles about our Federal Government’s attempt to support this small but immensely important group.

Namely, I’ll be taking a close look at:

  • Commercialisation Australia (how it works and compares to Commercial Ready);
  • the proposed R&D Tax Incentive reforms (how these reforms will affect Australian industries and the ICT sector in particular); and,
  • lastly, how these reforms match (or conflict) with the political language used to promote them.

While any attempt to measure a government’s possible impact on future economic prosperity is fraught with danger, it is possible to compare current and past Federal Government initiatives and review their described goals against their mechanisms.

Wish me luck! Because in another seven years I don’t want to spend my Australia Day asking, ‘Innovation… Where the bloody hell are you?!”

Also in this series…

Part 1: Australian Innovation Policy… Where the bloody hell are you?

Part 2: Can Australia really claim to be a nation of innovators?

Part 3: The proposed Australian R&D tax reforms… Do they walk the talk?

Part 4: Would you like to be CEO of Commercialisation Australia?