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Moon Shots for Australia: 7 For Now

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On Australia day this year I felt compelled to write a Blog on Moon Shots for Australia

I was sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles. I had just been to the Getty Museum and it challenged my sense of being Australian.

Where are the Big Dreams for Australia?

So I wrote the Blog based on a personal reflection. Not a lot has changed although I have noticed the concept of Big Ideas is getting some traction. This is my third Blog addressing Moon Shots. Last week I proposed two areas: Water Abundance and Food.

Based on my reading and conversations in the last six months, there is very little public discussion on the big prosperity issues. We focus more on issues that are ‘means to ends’ – Education, Health, Taxation, Superannuation – all important in terms of vote-getting but all only pipe dreams if we are not increasing the size of the pie.

For Australia to have a prosperous future there is an imperative to change the nature of the national conversation to focus on Big Ideas (Moon Shots) which will, over time, increase the prosperity of Australia. In my reading I discovered a reference from Thomas Friedman who had written about Moon Shots in an article in 2010 – entitled Their Moon Shot and Ours’

In fact, he was writing about China’s Moon shots over 6 years ago

It both supported and challenged my feeling from January.

China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry;

and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities.

In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.

Thomas Friedman 25th September 2010.

Some big questions:

If China can do it why can’t Australia?

Where are the big dreams for Australia?

What difference does Australia make in the world?

What sort of a country are we leaving our grandchildren?

In December 2015, there was a great piece on Economic Complexity is the answer to Hynes Innovation Problem in  the Conversation by Goran Roos addressing the issues of innovation in Australia. He says:

The purpose of industry policy is to ensure Australia is prosperous, both now and in the future. But a nation’s potential to create prosperity is a direct function of its economic complexity.

 It is here I first encountered the concept of the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) and I discovered that there is a whole body of work in the area of economic complexity.

It is defined as A measure of a country’s productive output.In simple terms, ECI is a driver of prosperity. The more prosperous countries now and into the future will have a higher level of Economic Complexity.

As it happens Australia has a relatively low level of economic complexity and in the 25-year period to 2012 our economic complexity has decreased. A more recent rating has us at 79. The countries we are closest to include Chile and Zimbabwe.

Atlas of Economic prosperity: Mapping paths to Prosperity

Can you imagine what would happen if, after the next Olympics Games, we rank 79 among the competing nations?

Firstly there will be a period of national mourning, then excuses, followed by a period of scapegoating then maybe a review and “more money so we can compete?

 Australia competed at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. 180 competitors, 146 men and 34 women, took part in 115 events in 20 sports. Australia performed poorly, winning one silver and four bronze medals. The result that spurred Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to set up the Australian Institute of Sport”

Following all this who knows?

The issue for me in this Blog is that Australia is going backwards on a major indicator of prosperity and we are focusing on how we can redistribute the pie.

I cannot recall one conversation on the concept of growing our industry base, increasing the size of the pie or wealth creation at any level.

There is no government in the world that does not want employment growth for prosperity but the role of Government is not to grow jobs.

Business creates employment. Responsible government creates an environment and a platform where this is possible.

Given the significance of this work on Economic Complexity and its potential impact on Australia, it is almost negligent that as a nation we are not discussing it on a daily basis as a part of our national business conversation.

We write reports and talk about all the ‘ways we might improve’ the means but we never talk about the ends specifically – the growth industries?

What are the ‘man on the moon’ type dreams, which will galvanise this country from being a self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, self-interested, once prosperous nation, to being a world leader – genuinely punching above our weight in more than sport?

There is no doubt the Australian people understand why prosperity is needed!

We want Australia to be a prosperous nation so we can all enjoy a HIGH standard of living! And have a great lifestyle! We also want Australia to be a country that has a safety net that protects the less fortunate.

There are major challenges inherent in this ‘dream’.

  1. We are an aging nation
  2. Mining which in recent times has been the driver of prosperity is in a downturn
  3. Our productivity performance has deteriorated over recent year
  4. Our capacity to establish a High Tech Australia with the NBN seems to have been highjacked by a self-interested political process.
  5.     We have a business culture which is at best, cautious, and at worst, self-satisfied.
  6. A union movement fighting 20th-century battles e.g. penalty rates and saving jobs when the world is facing the introduction of business platforms, which are transformative. (eg driverless cars
  7. 51% of Australians are receiving more in benefits than they are paying in tax.

One surprise to me is that very few Australian business leaders publically express a view on the Moon Shot type issues. Even the Business Council of Australia with all its resources is light on in terms of public statements about the Future Prosperity of Australia.

Growth Industries of the Future is a good place to start as all prosperity comes from a high performing business sector.

Positioning for prosperity? Catching the Next Wave a paper published by (Deloittes 2015) highlights 25 Growth Sectors and Growth pockets and classifies them as Deloitte Growth 25 (DG25), our future opportunities. This is a starting point. See below:

Growth opportunities for Australia (DG25)

Current Wave1. Mining
Next WavesFantastic 5
3. Gas
5.International Education
 6. Wealth Management 
Future WavesSlipstream Stars
7. ICT –gateway to the future
8. Financing the Fantastic Five
9. Clean Coal
10 Gas Transport
11. Food processing
Global Silvers
12.Disaster Management and preparedness
13. Next-Gen Solar


14. Next Gen Nuclear
15. Medical Research
16. Ocean Resources
 17-25 Local Heroes 


In previous blogs, I have highlighted that the Government has designated a number of Growth Centres.

I can only assume these Growth Centres form the basis of our future:

(They are in fact signposts for the future from Government)

  • Advanced Manufacturing;
  • Food and Agribusiness;
  • Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals;
  • Mining Equipment, Technology and Services; and
  • Oil, Gas and Energy Resources.
  • Cyber Security (a recent addition)

I’ve posted more about this on my blog – Business in Australia – Where in the future? 

It is likely that any significant shift in our prosperity will be driven by break throughs in some of these Industries. So what might a breakthrough look like? There appears to be very little published to inform and / or educate ordinary Australians.

In this Blog, I have not tried to address all of the above areas. I have selected 6 Industry Sectors and the domain of Australian Spirituality. I have no doubt there are great minds in each of the above areas working on these issues and I await with interest the insights and benefits of their work.

While Australia may have an industry policy, it is hard to believe because there appears to be little conversation about it. One might think an election campaign would be an opportunity to address at least some of the issues. However in a recent article on the major issues for this election only the following were identified:

  • Health and Education Funding
  • Housing Policy
  • Company Tax Rate
  • Carbon Pricing
  • Industrial Relations

Election 2016: Five policy battles the Government and Opposition will take on: Dan Conifer Tues 11th May 2016

 More recently Superannuation has emerged as a major issue. All of these issues are important and some even contribute to the overall growth of Australian prosperity but they are only a ‘means’ to an en

moon_shots_for_australia_02Moon Shots

My preparation for this Blog did not involve a huge research project. It did involve scanning the media and publicly available information. I can say there is a limited conversation in this country about issues to do with the creation of prosperity.

What are the great global challenges?

Is Australia able to make a substantial difference in the world in Industries that matter?

What if Australia announced 7 Moon Shots covering a range of Industries and Domains that focused on National Prosperity? What is the downside?


Building on my previous Blog mentioned earlier Moon Shots for Australia I propose the following: In doing this I am cognisant of a quote from Gandhi:

First, they ignore you

Next, they laugh at you

Then they fight you

Then you win!!

Creating a prosperous Australia by creating prosperity in the world.

Moon Shot Definition and the criteria:

A Nation Building project with a 30-year timeframe (It must be Transformative) that has bi partisan support and focuses on developing our contribution to Humanity. It should include major physical Infrastructure projects that create National prosperity.

 The criteria are – Projects that:

  • Make a difference to Humanity (Change the world positively)
  • Make a difference to the lives of Australians
  • Focus on National Prosperity (wealth creation)
  • Uplift the human spirit

 There must be a balance between genuine “wealth creation” projects and “infrastructure projects” which support the essence of wealth creation.

These Moon Shots are not original work. I have discovered them in my reading over a long period of time and where possible, I have sourced the original idea. Please assist me if there is work here not referenced or inappropriately referenced.

  1. Australia is water self-sufficient (abundant) at 75million population.

 There is no debate that Australia is the driest continent on earth and water is in short supply. It is a genuinely important issue and it appears to me that Australia has done little about it. In the last water crises, Governments introduced water rationing and initiated the construction of a number of desalination plants – many of which remain unused. Can anyone remember the last substantial water project in Australia?

  1. Dramatically cut energy poverty for hundreds of millions in Asia.

The basic idea is to meet the projected almost doubling of energy demand in South East Asia by 2030, by exporting renewable energy from north-western Australia.

 Some time ago I read an article in ‘The Conversation’. The-north’s-future-is-electrifying-powering-asia-with-renewables . It has haunted me. Given Australia has abundant natural resources – coal, gas, sun, and uranium it appears we do not think either BIG enough or beyond ourselves.

A debate about how, with all our resources, Australia could make a difference in the lives of those who have no energy would be a more positive contribution than the current negative diatribe which is occurring.

Lack of energy resources is one issue, which keeps millions in poverty.

  1. A Top 5 Global Food – Fibre Brand

 A Strategy?

Food source to Plate in 24 hours (Globally)

  • Major Transport HUBS (Townsville, Darwin, Pilbara and Wellcamp) as gateways to Asia our major market.
  • These centres all having a world class road, rail and air systems established enabling them to distribute to major markets in Asia (Globally)?

 In a world of 9B people, food and fibre are central to the future. There is evidence that many overseas countries see huge value in owning Australian food and fibre companies –almost every month Australian businesses are sold on the basis that we need the foreign capital to grow our Industries. While I am not opposed to foreign investment, it does strike me as strange, that all these investors can see more value in our food and fibre businesses than we can! (or is shareholder value the only criteria?)

They are not investing in Australia for the benefit of Australians!

In the last few months, there has been a seafood processing business and dairy industry business sold to foreign investors – probably others!

Phil Ruthven leader among business thinkers in Australia. His work is without a peer. He was recently quoted as saying:

 “Supplying food to 1.5 billion people in China and 1.3 billion people in India is a real challenge for Australia and one of the macro challenges we face over the next several decades,” said Mr. Ruthven.

“It also brings a great challenge as to how we can have more reliable food supplies generated in Australia. Our country is infamous for its droughts, floods and lack of water. Rethinking agriculture and the way we value-add to our manufacturing – even relocating agriculture and manufacturing areas further north where there is more water – is something to be considered,” he says.

  1. Australia -one of the most innovative nations on the planet: with Switzerland, the United        Kingdom, Sweden, USA, and Israel.


More recently in Australia, there has been the emergence of a debate on innovation. The debate is long overdue. Not since the days of ‘micro economic reform’ have we had the opportunity to have a conversation about the future of wealth creation in Australia. Australia has now an Innovation Czar – and his stated position is noted above as a Moonshot.

This focus on innovation is a worldwide phenomenon as globally, countries are confronting the major disruptions, which are occurring. Whether it is called Industry 4.0 (Klaus Schwab)or The Third Wave (Case)  it is happening as we speak.

Australia, on any assessment, is a laggard and needs ‘a rocket put under it.’

The recent debate about Debts and Deficits, Tax Reform, Superannuation are relevant and important. The debate about Health and Education to are important BUT none of these issues or areas is focused on what really creates prosperity.

Business and Industry is the platform for all Wealth Creation. What is / where is the future of Industries and Businesses in Australia? From where is the real prosperity going to come? The current debate about Growth and Jobs is a ‘dumbed down’ version of the much bigger question!!

The current innovation conversation  is one strategy.

  1. Biotechnology replaces mining – a major driver of wealth creation in Australia

For our part, Australia is well on its way to achieving this vision of a successful bio-economy. The latest Scientific American Worldview Scorecard 2013 ranked Australia number seven in biotechnology in the world up from number ten in last year. We ranked best in the world for the “best growth in public markets” and second globally, for “Greatest public company revenues” and the “Most public companies”. Australia’s 88 ASX-listed biotechnology companies are valued at more that $51 billion (BioForum, April 2014) – a great contribution to the bio-economy. (Ausbiotech- Web Site)

In my last Blog, I mentioned that 7 of our 11 Nobel Prize winners were in Medicine and Physiology. It is a great tradition on which to build. Ian Fraser,Jian Zhou and Xaio, Yi his colleagues, have led the world with a breakthrough vaccine for cervical cancer. There are over 30 leading Medical Research Institutes in Australia. All engaged in major research. Literally billions of dollars are spent both here and overseas to improve the quality of human life and eliminate disease.

The latest Scientific American Worldview Scorecard 2013 ranked Australia number seven in biotechnology in the world up from number ten in last year. We ranked best in the world for the “best growth in public markets” and second globally, for “Greatest public company revenues” and the “Most public companies”. Australia’s 88 ASX-listed biotechnology companies are valued at more that $51 billion (BioForum, April 2014) – a great contribution to the bio-economy.In my last Blog, I mentioned that 7 of our 11 Nobel Prize winners were in the Medicine and Physiology. It is a great tradition on which to build.

Most of the research in Australia is determined by Government funding

There is no shortage of Moon Shots in this area: they are ubiquitous

  • Discovering the cure for (pick a disease?)
  • Creating new generations of diagnostic instruments (again pick a disease?)
  • Increased quality of life for the baby boomers (just let them live forever!)

All of these are globally significant and address the good of humanity – for Australia to be prosperous. This work needs to convert to wealth creation in Australia so how does one choose a Moon Shot over another? Who knows – there are great minds working on these issues …

I have named one only.

Australia ranked fifth this year, measured by IP protection, intensity (ranked #3), enterprise support, workforce/education (ranked #4), productivity (ranked #2), policy and stability. Australia also ranked in the global top three on four indicators:

#3 Greatest public company revenues;

#2 Most public companies;

#2 Most public company employees; and

#2 Largest biotech public markets.

By many standards, Australia performs well in this area, so how do we build and extend it to be a major driver of prosperity.

In the area of Biotechnology, there are multiple extensions – MedTech, food tech and cleantech –all of which have limitless scope for exploration.

  1. Australia –Integrated with Asia

Australia’s awareness of Asia in my lifetime is minimal. Over many years Asian languages have been taught in schools and there have been school exchange programs and some business pioneers. Very few have made the effort over the extended time required. It has been obvious forever that we are geographically closer to Asia than anywhere else but for historical and cultural reasons we have been slow.

Commodities to Japan; and Coal to Japan and China.

More recently Free Trade Agreements with China, South Korea, Thailand, and others. There are now serious signs of a movement towards Asia.

John Menadue, in his Blog ‘Pearls and Irritations’, posted a piece: A Bamboo ceiling and the old boys club’. In this blog he said:

“Our business sector is not equipping itself for our future in Asia.

A survey of 1000 companies two years ago, prepared by PWC found:

  • Two-thirds of Australian companies have no plans to change their approach to doing business in Asia despite the urging of the government and others. There is not much innovation or agility here!
  • Only 9% of Australian businesses have any sort of operation in Asia and only 12% have had any experience in Asia at all.
  • Whilst about a half of large companies are doing business in Asia, only 23% have staff on the ground ‘in market’ and for those companies with an Asian strategy, the total contribution of it to their bottom line was only 12%.

Australian companies are likely to invest more in New Zealand than in all of the ten countries of our South East Asian Region.”

Extraordinary a market of three million people versus how many?

  1. A Nation genuinely reconciled with its 40,000-year tradition – Reconciliation Project

The establishment of Reconciliation Day (and/ or week) is a symbolic step.

 What does a Nation Reconciled look like? It is a question worth considering.

Attending a workshop run by Jean Houston, scholar, philosopher, researcher, sociologist,we were left with the following thought:

“When Australians actually reconcile with our indigenous people and the 40,000 years of history which is a part of our story, we will have a special place in the world.” As I recollect she also said “Our aboriginal people are the only people in the world who don’t have a “fall away from … a creator” as a part of their creation story!”

So what does this mean?

Almost by definition we are a “nation of boat people” and therefore there is a dislocation of spirit in all our stories. For some, it is a very long time ago and the dislocation was massive. For others, it is more recent. For some it was a sentence; for others, it was a choice – searching for a better life. For others again,  it is a matter of survival

Can you imagine those who came in 1788 – the leadership group and the convicts. By any standards, our ancestors were a dislocated people. Their arrival changed the world of our indigenous people who over time were profoundly displaced and disenfranchised? It was a massive challenge for them all!

(Maybe it was a little like what is happening today around the world but the social protocols now, are more sophisticated and less permeable.)

Each grouping in a sense was fighting for survival, all with profoundly different agendas. None of them with the education, the technology and /or the social sophistication we have today. They survived and there is baggage. In all forms of social innovation (disruption) there are casualties. The Australian settlement was a form of social innovation (disruption) and sadly there were casualties. Reconciliation is an important part of our journey and it must come. There are bodies in place now actually working on it but how it will happen is a long way from being agreed or clear. There have been steps and there is currently a further step in the form of a Constitutional amendment in the offering.

The dissonance and unhappiness around the nature of Australia Day are another opportunity to engage in this conversation. It is not an either/or conversation.

Maybe we need a National Conversation on the question:

What does National Reconciliation mean and what would be the evidence to convict us of being a Nation reconciled.


There is no doubt that there are many other Moon Shots in the aspirations of Australian Business and Australians at large, but somehow we are unable to talk about them. Whether it is cynicism about the whole ‘vision thing’ or a preoccupation with the day to day exigencies of life, or a fear of offending or taking a position or failing, there is little public conversation about the ‘real future’ of Australia.

We have just been through an election campaign (8 weeks) and Malcolm Turnbull has an economic plan for jobs and growth. Bill Shorten has a vision for “a fair go” for all Australians.

This is not the stuff of dreams and inspiration.

If Australia is to play any role in the world in the future – it will be much better to have strategies for a nation, than for us to be a part of someone else’s strategy!

A life time ago I worked with a small group to contributed to the national conversation on micro economic reform specifically with respect to training and award restructuring.

There was a time when there were leaders who actually agreed on the big questions.


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