Denham Sadler
January 30, 2018

Industry seeks a quick response

2030 Strategy

Industry seeks a quick response

Alex McCauley: Looking for the next wave of innovation policy from government

The pressure is now on the Turnbull government to implement the recommendations included in Innovation and Science Australia’s 2030 strategic plan and to unveil its next wave of innovation policies, StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley says.

The government-funded independent ISA board released its roadmap on how to transform Australia into a top tier innovation nation by 2030 on Tuesday morning, including five imperatives and 30 recommendations.

These recommendations included improvements to the R&D tax incentive, immigration visas, education and the commercialisation process.

ISA also advised the government to launch a series of highly ambitious, large-scale National Missions to improve collaboration and address important real-world issues.

Mr McCauley said the report was a positive step and included many opportunities for Australian startups, but that the test would be whether the government follows through with them.

“The report is great and is written by people who really believe in this stuff. They’ve spent 18 months going around the country talking to all the right people about where this report should go,” Mr McCauley told InnovationAus.com.

“They are sold into the idea that innovation is the future for the economy. The question now is whether the government is as committed to transforming the Australian economy into something that’s going to be prosperous in the future.”

“I hope that having commissioned this report they are inclined to adopt most or all of the recommendations. This is about setting the foundation for making innovation actually a core fundamental base for the economy.”

The ISA 2030 report could form the basis of the federal government’s next wave of NISA policies, expected this year, he said.

“NISA was explicitly said to be a platform from which to leap – it was catching up in a few areas and testing a few things, but it was really a start and the big stuff was yet to come,” Mr McCauley said.

“If this report and the digital economy strategy can help build on the thinking around what the next big leap in innovation and economic transformation is then that’s fantastic. The better thing is if they can inform the next wave of action on this,” he said.

“The last thing we want is to spend all this time and energy on just another report that’s going to set in the top drawer.”

BlueChilli founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin said the ISA report is a good start, but Australia still needs a grand, overarching vision to unite it behind innovation.

“Australia needs a vision - a single unifying statement that transcends partisan boundaries and survives populist politics. Something that the entire country gets behind,” Mr Eckersley-Maslin told InnovationAus.com.

“The ISA framework and the five urgent imperatives yield a strong foundation and I’m genuinely supportive of it,” he said.

“However, our country still needs a vision to give context and meaning around the framework being established. The US had the moonshot, Israel has Startup Nation – Australia needs something that unifies us all.”

Mr McCauley said startups would be crucial in helping Australia to reach the 2030 vision described in the report.

“2030 is a long way off, and it’s great that someone’s doing some thinking on what Australia should look like then,” he said.

“It has a strong focus on high-growth companies which I’m reading as startups. It looks at how we establish a strong base of high-growth companies in Australia to drive that innovative future, and that’s very positive,” he said.

StartupAus worked closely with the ISA board on the development of the plan, which reflects many of the key recommendations the organisation has already put forward to government.

This includes improvements and refinements to the R&D tax incentive, and efforts to incentivise commercialisation and collaboration between public entities and the private sector.

“One of the big areas the report deals with is the R&D tax incentive, and it’s great to see that at the core of this piece of work looking at what the Australian economy is going to look like in 12 years from now. It’s good to see that’s still going to be a core focus of policy for the long-term,” Mr McCauley said.

“It makes recommendations about amplifying the role of development in R&D and framing it in a way that supports commercialisation. That’s something that Australia has traditionally been very weak at, so that’s a positive thing.”

Mr McCauley said he spoke with Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash earlier this week on the recommendations included in the report.

“She’s alive to the idea that one thing we need to do is make sure the R&D tax incentive targets the right type of companies doing the right type of things. We will see some reform on that this year, and hopefully it’s in line with the flavour of the recommendations,” he said.

The National Missions included in the plan also echo ‘moonshot’ startup ideas, Mr McCauley said, and young tech companies will be play a leading role in implementing these ambitious projects.

“Entrepreneurs are going to be creating lots of that value that drives the growth in those National Missions. The deep research will come from world-leading research institutions but lots of the application of that research will be coming from entrepreneurs and academics who are entrepreneurial-minded,” he said.

These National Missions will only be successful if the right framework is put in place to ensure they withstand political changes, he said.

“For this to be effective we’ve got to have a framework to make sure this isn’t just a flash in the pan. If the government says it wants a National Mission in genomics, they’ve got to have a framework so that if they lose the next election it’s not just going to go away,” Mr McCauley said.

“There needs to be legislative instruments in place to support that and budgetary instruments in place that are hard to remove,” Mr McCauley said.

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