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Innovation the key to our future

13 February 20181 comment

Skilled migrants will boost numbers of jobs available to locals and are vital for the innovation Australia needs to bring future prosperity, according to a new report by one of the nation’s leading science bodies.

The report, titled ‘Prosperity though Innovation’ and produced by Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), says prioritised investment in artificial intelligence and strengthened efforts “in talent attraction and skilled immigration” are key to the nation’s future.

And ISA deputy chairman and Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel says that rather than stealing jobs, skilled migrants boosted employment for locals.

However, the report shows government figures indicate that the number of primary skilled visas being granted fell by more than one-third in the first quarter of this financial year, with analysts blaming tightened visa rules announced last April.

“In a world that continues to become more interconnected and complex, innovation is becoming more and more critical to national economic performance, job creation and standards of living,” the ISA report says.

“As the historical drivers of our productivity growth wane, we need to strengthen our capacity to generate value from our ideas and our inventiveness.

“Rather than being fearful of the disruption and change that technology will inevitably bring to all countries, Australians should see in these transformations the seeds of renewed growth that can sustain our enviable prosperity and quality of life,” the report says.

It lays out decade-long strategy aimed at generating and capturing the benefits of innovation for Australians.

The report makes 30 recommendations framed in five strategic areas.

It says the nation must respond top educational needs by responding to the changing nature of work by equipping all Australians with skills relevant to 2030.

The report says better research and development is needed to ensure Australia’s ongoing prosperity by stimulating high-growth firms and improving productivity.

It says government must become a catalyst for innovation and be recognised as a global leader in innovative service delivery.

“ISA’s vision is that by 2030, Australian governments will facilitate innovation through the regulatory and policy environment; procurement and major programs and projects; and through role modelling innovation through service delivery,” the report says.

It says Australia must improve research and development by increasing translation and commercialisation of research and also Enhance the national culture of innovation by launching ambitious ‘National Missions’.

“We see a future as an innovation-strong nation that is also innovation proud,” the report says.

“We believe the Australian Government has a strategic opportunity to use ‘National Missions’ – large-scale initiatives catalysed by governments that are designed to address audacious challenges – to accelerate Australian innovation and encourage more collaboration across the innovation system,” it says.

Science groups have broadly embraced the blueprint released this month, but have criticised the lack of focus on basic research.

And while the report overlooks university teaching, saying the vocational education sector is where action is most needed, the academics’ union has warned the December freeze on university funding could trigger an “ice age in Australian innovation”.

The Australian Academy of Science endorsed “constructive recommendations” including better teacher training, a dedicated funding stream for translational activity and a “collaboration premium” on research and development tax incentives.

Science and Technology Australia praised the strategy’s plan for a “national mission” to help make Australia the world’s healthiest nation.

But the STA expressed disappointment at a “lack of emphasis” on curiosity-led research.

“Without basic science, translation and commercialisation of science and technology simply cannot occur,” said STA president Emma Johnston.

Academy of Science president Andrew Holmes said Australia’s most commercially successful innovations had begun life as basic research aimed at the public good.

“This includes Wi-Fi, penicillin, the cochlear implant, polymer bank notes and many other examples.”

The strategy’s recommendations are framed around education, industry, government, R&D and “culture and ambition”.

The education section urges schooling improvements and vocational education reforms, but steers clear of universities.

The National Tertiary Education Union said the midyear budget freeze on university funding was “diametrically opposed to the report’s vision.”



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist