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The deadline for The Australian’s innovation awards – presented by the daily in partnership with Shell and the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research – has been extended, apparently on growing popular demand. The awards recognise innovation for the public good as well as breakthroughs that have potential for commercial use. The winners of each category will receive a cash prize of $5,000. The overall winner will receive an additional $25,000. The Backyard Innovation award open to the general public has a $10,000 prize.
Our 'secret-squirrels' have revealed to Anthill that the seven board positions, appointed to analyse and approve Commercialisation Australia funding applications, have been filled and that an announcement is imminent. No-one knows who will be among this 'magnicifent seven' other than those appointed or involved in the decision. In fact, it is a complete mystery to external observers how these important functionaries were selected. Was there some sort of process behind closed doors? Were they vetted? Were the decisions political? Or vaguely political, chosen in the same fashion as a US High Court Judge, to perform the role yet still be 'on-side' with the powers that be?
Is innovation a driver of economic development down-under? The simple answer is, yes. But is it a core driver – part of our national psyche, supported by government policy? I personally don’t think that it is. I’m not so sure that ‘necessity’ is a part of life for most Australians. I don’t think that the ‘tyranny of distance’ still forces us to work smarter, not harder. In fact, the only cultural description I believe worth citing as part of this innovation debate is Australia’s reputation as a ‘lucky country’.
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’.