[ASC-media] Nobel Laureate calls for national innovation agency

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Wed May 27 14:31:36 PDT 2015


The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)

ATSE is an independent body of 800 eminent Australian scientists and

enhancing Australia’s prosperity through technological innovation





Nobel Laureate calls for national innovation agency

Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Prize winner, has called for the
establishment of a national innovation agency which can cut across the silos
of government, has a long term mandate with bi-partisan support and is
focused on what has to be one of the most pressing issues of Australia’s
economic future.

“If we want to raise our productivity, grow job numbers and increase
prosperity, we need to create high-value added companies to replace our
commodity income - that is what an innovation policy is all about,” he said
during his address “What does an innovation policy look like?” at the ATSE
Clunies Ross awards on Thursday night, 28 May, celebrating the remarkable
achievements of Australia’s leading innovators in technological science and

“I have been highly critical of our innovation policy and our piece meal
approach to solving our innovation policy woes.”

Professor Schmidt noted that in 2008 the Government commissioned a review of
the innovation system which made 72 recommendations in total with almost
none of them having been acted upon. 

“I am heartened by the government’s announcements made on Tuesday focused on
innovation, but I think we still need a large well-resourced group focused
on this issue – a ‘National Innovation Agency’ - which can cut across the
silos of government, with a long-term life and bi-partisan support.”

Professor Schmidt went on to discuss some of the issues this group needs to

“My observation is that we simply have not developed an entrepreneurial
culture here in Australia but there are a whole range of systems that could
support technical entrepreneurs.” 

 “We need the upside risks of being innovative to outweigh the downside
risks because failure is at the heart of innovation.”

He noted that in Australia, the price for failure in innovation within a
university is typically your research career. 

“Researchers need time off for following innovation with a guaranteed
pathway back to research within a limited amount of time.”

“Government incentives to research organisations that perform well in
industry engagement would also help.”

“Australia’s corporate governance laws appear to place significant barriers
on how company directors can invest in risky opportunities, and our
bankruptcy laws are particularly punitive, which means the down-side risk is
high in Australia for start ups.” 

“We also need to think about the policies and structures in place in
Australia to help if you choose to innovate.  For example, in many
universities and CSIRO, you do not own your own IP.”

Professor Schmidt noted that while the number of Angel Investors,
incubators, accelerators and Venture Capital funds are increasing, Australia
is still highly limited compared to other countries. 

But it is not just access to capital holding innovation back.

“Of the 25 venture capital funds created in Australia since 1997, the
annualized internal rate of return over a 15 year horizon was -0.85% - with
the top ¼ returning 0.65%.” 

“Government policies and support to encourage high-quality skill
development, mentoring, and access to relevant networks through accelerators
and incubators, seems to be a logical policy in line with what the most
successful countries are doing to improve the success of innovative

 “We also need to have policies to recruit the relevant people from
overseas. For example, there are visa regulations that make it hard to
attract people to high-tech industry and there are tax disincentives for
ex-patriots who have made it big overseas to return home.” 

“StartupAUS’s 2015 Crossroads report found that only 0.2% of Australia’s GDP
is contained in high-growth start-ups, compared to the US, for example,
where 21% of GDP and 11% of private sector employment comes from high-growth
Venture Capital backed companies. 

“Many of our successes have left Australia in search of talent, capital and
more favourable regulatory environments.”

He noted that, unfortunately, overseas investment in high-tech Australian
companies seems to eventually precipitate a move of the company overseas. 

“Government policies that help ensure Australian companies stay in Australia
is fundamental for the country to receive long-term benefits from its

He concluded by congratulating the ATSE Clunies Ross Award winners as the
people who are providing the knowledge, skills, mentoring and hope needed
for Australia to develop a vibrant innovation culture.

The select group of 2015 ATSE Clunies Ross Award winners are:

-       Associate Professor Jim Patrick AO FTSE, to be awarded a Lifetime
Achievement Award as one of the original engineers who pioneered the
development of the multichannel cochlear implant. 

-       Dr Cathy Foley PSM FTSE and Mr Keith Leslie, both from CSIRO, who
will receive a joint award for their work in advanced superconducting
technologies that has been responsible for discovery of ore deposits valued
at more than $10 billion globally, returning over $4 billion to Australia. 

-       Associate Professor Leigh Ward, from the University of Queensland,
who developed a standardised, specific, accurate yet inexpensive tool for
early detection of lymphoedema –which now has national and international
acceptance, has lead to improving quality of life, minimising long-term
consequences for patients and significantly reducing treatment costs. 

-       Professor Zhiguo Yuan, from the University of Queensland, who
developed a suite of innovative technologies to revolutionise the science
and practice of integrated urban water management for Australian water
utilities, generating economic benefits in excess of $400 million.

Tomorrow (29 May), Professor Schmidt and the winners join 200 students and
teachers from across Queensland in the ‘Wonder of Extreme Science” event at
QUT, with hands-on activities to excite students about studies and careers
in science and technology.


The ATSE Clunies Ross Awards are made possible through the support of
sponsors and supporters. The 2015 Awards are sponsored by:

Platinum: Bechtel, Queensland Government, Rio Tinto, University of
Newcastle, University of Queensland 

Gold: Monash University, Queensland University of Technology 

Silver: Australian Institute of Marine Science, ANSTO, Brisbane City, CSIRO,
Department of Defence – DSTO,

University of the Sunshine Coast, University of NSW

Suporting: Farrell Family Foundation


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