Are you yarning yet? You will if you read Knowledge + Innovation + Wealth. It’s by the Australian Institute for Commercialisation (AIC) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA). On the other hand, it may be the paper is a realistic mirroring of the sleepy state of innovation policy in Australia.

If you fell into a coma in 1997 and came out in 2007 you’d find little improvement in the policy. Most positive changes in innovation policy development at the Local, State or Federal level seem to have been reactions to developments elsewhere or abroad rather than proactive.

There’s been some positive changes in Australia. Laws and tax rates for venture capital have improved. There’s been cultural changes, more people energised and focused on business than decades before. There’s increased online availability of information resources. There is  even more interest in commercialisation than ever before in Australia.

How do others read the scene?

Views from industry associations

"marc_newson_chair"If we accentuate the positive, the AIC and BCA paper is a call for action with a clear takeaway agenda stated in its introduction: “Within the BCA’s overall framework, the AIC is advocating ten specific actions, or milestones. Over the course of the next year, the AIC will develop more detailed policy documents about these milestones and what is needed to achieve them.”

Lightbulb woke from its slumber this week with the news that the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (AEEMA) will be rolled up into the Australian Industry Group, a major business lobby group led by Heather Ridout. Stuart Corner of ITWire has a good historical backgrounder on AEEMA. Outgoing AEEMA CEO, Angus Robinson is reported elsewhere as saying that Australia has not made any gains in innovation capacity over the past decade."marc_newson_embryo_chair_1988"

View from academia

It’s difficult to eliminate such negatives. Another morning wake up slap came this week from Roy Green, Dean of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management. His opinion piece was in the inside back page of The Australian Financial Review on 29 October 2007. He is fuelled by his experience in Ireland watching European countries who focused on the boom in oil resources in the North Sea not do as well longer term, he says, as those countries developing their research and innovation infrastructure.

Are you still reading? Please do, we’ve got to keep our innovation chin up. Don’t fall into believing myths about Australia’s record in innovation, as discussed in “Are we our own worst enemy?”. There are success story, eg see Made in Australia. Sigh or groan if it makes you feel better. Do so loudly in response to the poor quality of press releases.

View from Canberra "marc_newson_chair1"

Take for example an innovation status update press release on 16 August 2007. In it Ian Macfarlane, the Federal Government Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, announced that legislation would be introduced on that day for a new board, to be known as Innovation Australia. The Minister’s September 2007 press release provides an update on Canberra’s view of the world:

  • “Thanks to funding of $5 million from the Australian Government, the Innovation Australia Board, formed by the merger of the IR&D Board and Venture Capital Registration Board, will also increase awareness of the Government’s innovation and venture capital programs. …
  • Innovation Australia will oversee the delivery of Government’s business innovation and venture capital programs, including the R&D Tax Concession, Commercial Ready, COMET, the Innovation Investment Funds and Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnerships.”


Whoever wins in the forthcoming federal election it seems likely that there won’t be much change in innovation policy.

When it comes to the related policy area of education, there’s likely to be ongoing developments, hopefully positive ones.

If innovation makes sense despite an ongoing resources boom, and if all sectors of society are excited about innovation and are willing to take risks and walk the innovation talk, even then the long term shape of Australia’s comparative advantage can’t be changed quickly. Maybe such change is not a good idea anyway. To cite just a few areas, Australia’s technological advantage has been in such fields as agriculture, primary metals and refrigeration and not telecommunications, measuring equipment, aerospace and chemicals."marc_newson_gluon_chair_and_easy_chair"

After all, Australia’s rear view mirror suggests that forces abroad will continue to be the major architects of local change.

The point of this post is that there is too little uncensored, decent conversation and action about innovation in Australia. It’s not that “We’ll all be rooned” without it. It’s that we’d have a better spread of risks in the lucky country. It’s just my opinion. What do I know, I’ve just been an intellectual property lawyer in Australia for about a quarter of a century.

Photo credits: All chairs are designed by Marc Newson, an international industrial designer born in Sydney. He has lived in London since 1997. This year his Lockheed Lounges (see the first photo in this post) have sold for record sums through Sotheby’s and the Gagosian Gallery in New York.

Noric Dilanchian