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Australia 2030 – A Kookaburra crying?

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Prosperity through Innovation

Australia is in a $1.6 trillion global innovation race, where the prize at stake is a bigger share of global wealth, better jobs, and the best access to the products of innovation for addressing societal challenges.

Yet we are falling behind our global peers, particularly in student performance in science and mathematics, and in business investment in research and development. This is more than a canary chirp in our economic mineshaft: it is a clarion call for national action.

Australia 2030; Prosperity through Innovation presented to the Government by Bill Ferris AC, Chair, Innovation and Science Australia, November 2017.

Since the PM introduced innovation as a major policy initiative in late 2015 I have been following the conversation with great interest. I have published over 50 Blogs on innovation and I have discovered that we have several systemic (cultural) issues which are not the subject of any serious conversation. It is my hypothesis that some of these issues are the reason Australia is falling behind based on many criteria. A summary list:

  1. Australia as a country is devoted to lifestyle and many of our cultural symbols reinforce that. (The Award system and recreation?)
  2.  The innovation conversation is being held in a vacuum! Where is the sense of purpose and direction?
  3. Industry appears to lack the will to innovate. Over 70% of our scientists are employed in Universities and only 30% in Industry.
  4. Our Industry Complexity level is low compared to other countries. (Our ranking in the grouping 5-100 is indicative of a country heavily reliant on commodities.)
  5. Leadership in the conversation about wealth generation is non existent.
  6. Our business culture is complacent based on our raw material wealth and recent economic success. (26 years of uninterrupted growth!)

All of these issues have been highlighted in previous blogs..

This report specifically says in the summary page:

This is more than a canary chirp in our economic mineshaft: it is a clarion call for national action. Other leaders have made similar calls.

Over the past few years, I have collected a number of images and statements (randomly) from business thought leaders which might amplify the above call.

What are leaders are saying?:

Former chief scientist Ian Chubb has blasted Australia’s lack of vision,…Others images include:

One of Australia’s key downfalls is our inability to allow failure.  

 a complacent Australia is succumbing to its old-fashioned ‘she’ll be right” mediocrity’.

Many of our business leaders suffer from the disease of domestic introspection

Australia is like a ship without a mast.

We are on a slippery slope to global irrelevance,..

These statements highlight a view of some business thought leaders, which is disappointing at best, disturbing at worst. It is hard to find a positive comment about the business culture in Australia. The future of business is happening around us and there is little serious conversation about business environments of the future.

In the first two months of 2018 further comments have appeared in the Australian:

there is an insidious, slow-moving cancer that is creeping into the Australian corporate decision-making process..

Australia’s problem in the 21st century is mediocrity,

These statements create a dismal picture. More than a canary chirp – it sounds like a kookaburra laughing (or crying)!

More recently Industry Forums have emerged convened by the media. Maybe it is the start of a new era in strategic thinking by Industry. Are these the Forums we look to for genuine Direction in wealth generation which is the basis of prosperity?

As a nation we either unable or unwilling  to have a positive conversation about a subject which is the substance of our future – our capacity to be a prosperous nation. Investment in innovation is a great concept only if we have a vibrant business community focussed on something other than the next quarterly result and politicians who have the will and the skill to rise above ideological clap trap and contribute to a great debate about our future.

Consider the  debates in/about wealth generating industries  which have dominated the last 10 years.  The car industry, banking, mining, and now energy come to mind.  There may well have been others, but they pale into the background. I won’t list the debates we have had over social issues and leadership struggles that have consumed months and years of time.

None of the Industry debates are positive or productive!

Car Industry – withdrawal of major players and the demise of the Industry. (Toyota,Ford and Holden)

Banking – While the banking system may require  reformation – it is hard to see how a Royal commission will generate any future wealth for anyone?

Mining – the move by a few to deconstruct the coal industry of the future

Energy – a genuine failure of the Governance systems with respect to planning.

(It is worth noting on the Australian Stock Exchange the Top 10 businesses by Market Capitalisation seven are from Banking and Mining. Much of the wealth of Australia is generated by the Industries under scrutiny?)

The focus of these conversations is both  acrimonious and and  wealth limiting.  In one case is is about generically “poor” government policy.  Peripherally there are conversations about Health Education and Welfare and of course, they are important BUT these conversations are about Government expenditure or wealth redistribution.

We are in the 18th year of the 21st Century and we have now produced another report on Innovation. The first one I remember was produced in 1991.  Prosperity through Innovation indeed has a focus on 2030 and “a clarion call.”

In my many Blogs on Innovation in Australia, I hypothesised that Innovation in a vacuum is meaningless.  Australia needs a genuine National Vision – a story that galvanises us all. I have argued that in the public arena conversation on a good day about the economy discusses, debts and deficits, creating jobs and Tax Reform. All of this is good, and it needs to be done but they are MEANS not ENDs.  Innovation also is a means NOT an end. It is URGENT that each Industry has a view about Australia’s place in the world and the difference we can make! The next generation needs leadership not a never-ending series of political conversations about who sits in which chair, which ends in a children’s merry go round.

This report in a small way starts to address this vacuum over 100 pages and makes 30 recommendations under 5 Imperatives.

The Imperatives are a clear framework for how the writers see the story:

The 30 Recommendations are outlined under each Imperative:

  • Imperative 1: Education
  • Imperative 2: Industry
  •  Imperative 3: Government
  • Imperative 4: Research and Development
  • Imperative 5: Culture and Ambition

While the recommendations are all valuable buried in Imperative 5: Culture and Ambition National are Recommendations 27 and 28.

  • Establish a “National Mission” to help make Australia the healthiest nation on earth with a step change investment in our national genomics and personalised medicine capability and its integration into our medical research and healthcare system. (27)
  • Adopt a framework to continue to identify and implement “National Missions”(28)

These recommendations at least open the possibility to a bigger picture.

The concept of National Mission is a good one – see Moon shots for Australia – 7 For Now

Buried in the body of work on the Imperative 2:  Industry –  is the possibility of another? It is framed as a suggestion for the Government which is developing a Digital Economy Strategy:

It says the Governments priority should be:

To position Australia as a leading nation in the research development and exploitation of AI and machine learning ML across the digital economy.

 In addition to those named the report proposes two additional National Mission candidates in addition to the Genomics and Precision Medicine.

  1. Restore the Reef
  2. Hydrogen City

It is disappointing the Report did not go further and propose another seven moon shots i.e. 10 National Missions that Australians could aspire to and/or debate over an extended period.  The debate would generate much more productive energy than the current nonsense. In recent weeks the Prime Minister has announced that Australia will be in the top 10 Defence Manufacturers so now there are 4 potential National Missions!

  1. Genomics and precision medicine
  2. Restore the Reef
  3. Hydrogen City
  4. Top 10 Defence suppliers in world

I guess we could argue thats a step forward.

This is one of 60 reports produced on Innovation and related areas in the last 25 years.  There are the seeds of a Direction for some Major Industry Initiatives, but I wonder if we could do better. There are major opportunities emerging over the next 50 years if we focus on the world outside of Australia – who is thinking about them and is it possible there will be a national debate and even a Direction.

In Australia the Lifestyle country – it is probably too much to ask?

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