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Innovation in Australia (1991 -24 Years Ago)

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Innovation in Australia

Recently I have been cleaning out some files and I found a document published in 1991. Remember those days, there was serious debate about Australia’s economic future; a Labor government was leading it!

The paper was called:

Innovation in Australia – Report for the Industry Research and Development Board by Pappas Carter Evans and Koop – The Boston Consulting Group. July 1991

I found this quote:

“Our standard of living is set to fall unless we can shift our wealth creation away from our traditional export base in natural resources to manufactured goods and services where world trade is growing fastest.”Pg.2

It sounds like a “conversation” Australia needs today.


This report Outlines a number of conclusions and key issues which when I read them sound a little like the conversation that Australia is having now –with little success!

What is it about Australia that we cannot have a genuine conversation about the wealth creation in the future?

The Conclusions:

  1. An increase in exported manufactured goods and services is the key to improving Australia’s wealth generation.
  2. The establishment of corporations of significant size is a prerequisite for sharp growth in manufacturing exports.
  3. Innovation is a critical determinant of sustained export growth.
  4. Even after accounting for differences in our Industry structure Australia’s private sector expenditure in R&D remains low.
  5. This we can readily characterise Australian innovation as LARGE “R”, small “d” and almost negligible “c”.
  6. Technology push remains the primary driver of the nation’s innovative effort.
  7. In most cases, the innovation process requires small ”r” medium sized “d” and LARGE “C”.
  8. In most cases, the major impetus for successful innovation stems from the market place rather than the technology base.
  9. In the sample projects evaluated, the projects that were unsuccessful did not fail for technical reasons.
  10. Experience and factors such as strong customer relationships and access to distribution are key drivers of innovation success.
  11. Innovation Policy must follow industry policy.

The Key Issues:

  1. Make decision makers aware of what innovation entails.
  2. Make commercial output and business growth the focus of our innovation support.
  3. Accelerate innovation experience
  4. Create an environment willing to support new companies on a sustained basis.

Recently two of our major newspapers convened a summit to discuss issues to do with economic reform in the absence of any more broadly based discussion. Why is it that newspapers have to do it? As business leaders is it their role? Or is their initiative more self-serving?

It is just another source of data for the papers.

In some of my earlier Blogs I have canvassed the issues of Australia as a country more committed to lifestyle than anything else.

The issue of Innovation is not a new one. It has been subtext in the business conversation over many years. I wonder how many reports have been done since 1991? And what difference has been made? Are we any better or more advanced now than we were then? I know now that annually we publish- An Australian Innovation System Report. This is only the start but at least it is acknowledgement.

Surely the real question must be: What difference is being made? By whom?

Is it really possible for Australia to have a vibrant business culture recognised globally for its INNOVATION and learning?

 Our current ranking On The Global Innovation Index is 17th out of 141 Countries. Over the 5 years our position has improved from 23rd.

Just think if after the next Olympic games we rank 23rd (or even 17th) in the world – public outrage led by media; a National Inquiry!!

Australia really has developed a recreational culture where everything is an entitlement and /or a right! Genuine debates about the future of our major source of wealth creation and prosperity are framed in terms of productivity, work choices and tax reform. Recently I was working with some business leaders who were bemoaning the state of Australia’s workplace laws. All were frustrated and disillusioned and exploring ways of outsourcing and/ or contracting workers to survive.

There appears to be little public understanding or acceptance that for Australia to survive and prosper into the middle of the 21st Century –it will only come off the back of a stunningly successful business sector.

All the debate about “saving jobs” and /or the Government creating them is counterproductive.

Innovation is one platform for this prosperity.

Some innovative thinking around the role of business in society might be helpful. A question might be:

How we might create a culture where business innovation and commercialisation is acknowledged as the equivalent of “national sport”? (Instead of a subliminal conversation in debates about ECONOMIC REFORM?)

There are many outstanding and innovative businesses in Australia now BUT who knows about them?

It is Business that creates jobs and prosperity – government certainly can support encourage and create the environment for a robust business sector but it needs a clearly articulated direction! (Now its called a narrative!)

Ultimately it is business that does the heavy lifting. (As an aside what wealth creation initiatives has the Union movement contributed to over 20 years)

If businesses had performed in the way Unions had performed over the past 20 years –they may all be bankrupt.

Whatever your political views the story of Israel is more than interesting:

“.,it has the highest density of start –ups in the world (a total of 3850 startups, one for every 1844 Israelis) more Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all companies that form the entire European continent.”

Pg 11 The Start –Nation, The story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, Dan Senor and Saul Peres.

And Israel has been in existence a relatively short time compared to Australia, Why is that?

The Australian Innovation System report 2014 mentioned earlier, in its Executive summary says:

Broadly, we find that Australia’s innovation system is a mid-range performer among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The evidence suggests that our innovation performance is lagging, potentially leaving us less resilient to future global shocks. These findings are further outlined here.

Surely it is a wake up call for us all? What has really changed since 1991? 


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