Collaboration is key: Sinodinos

James Riley
Editorial Director

Arthur Sinodinos intends making ‘collaboration’ the hallmark of his tenure in the Industry portfolio, and has recommitted the Turnbull Government to putting science and innovation at the centre of policy-making and service delivery.

In his first major speech as Industry minister – to the National Press Club in Canberra – Senator Sinodinos said Australia’s path to continued prosperity lay in improving collaboration between industry, institutional research and government.

“Collaboration – bringing together research, ideas and entrepreneurship – this is what I really want to become the hallmark of my efforts in the portfolio,” Senator Sinodinos said. “I really want to nail this issue.”

“It ties together everything we do in the research and innovation spaces. It uses industry links to commercialise what we do. But it’s also an issue in the portfolio that requires work.”

Which is all fine, of course, and this was a very good speech as a part of the ‘Science Meets Parliament’ event.

But if the Senator really wants to make a dent in this issue, he would do well to set up a permanent state of ‘Science Meets Business’.

With great respect to the science community, ‘institutional science’ does not need to meet Parliament.

Institutional science already knows Parliament exceptionally well, and has the well-funded lobbying programs to continue to make new introductions as required.

The reality is that science knows where its bread is buttered. And that is by government.

But if Arthur Sinodinos can find a way to encourage these institutions to become more business-friendly, more open to genuine collaboration rather than fee-for-service structures, then he will have gone a long way to making progress in this important area.

It is not like Australia’s short-comings on collaboration are some dark secret. As the Minister noted at the Press Club, we ranked flat-out last – 27th out of 27 countries – for collaborations between researchers and innovative businesses in a now infamous 2012 OECD report.

And Innovation and Science Australia has made this a cornerstone of its messaging: Australia ranks very well against global peers in knowledge creation (research) and terrible on translation (commercialisation.)

This was a good speech. I’ll say that again. But Senator Sinodinos has had a bet each way in several contentious areas.

He flatly rejected Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes’ assertion that the government was dodging the question of job losses as a result of innovative change. In fact, he says the innovation conversation started by Malcolm Turnbull when he suddenly became Prime Minister in 2015 is exactly about this issue.

“Through our innovation policies, we want to keep Australians in gainful, well-paid jobs. That’s what this Government’s policies are all about. They’re about helping your business and your industry to respond to disruption in the market, and to stay viable in the future,” the minister said.

“They’re about creating an innovation mindset across all sectors of the economy – traditional and non-traditional. A cultural change that outlasts any minister or any government. It’s really important that we talk about innovation openly, clearly and often.”

But then he immediately dilutes the core message of cultural change toward entrepreneurial and innovation mindset to highlight the importance of interventionist industry policy as being the central to our future.

He acknowledges that this so-called fourth industrial revolution is causing much anxiety outside of the inner-cities, but is in the next moment dismissive of these concerns as pointless.

The conversation Mike Cannon-Brookes is alluding to is not the one about the hundreds of job losses at an automotive supplier or even the thousands of jobs losses at a car manufacturer.

He is talking about the hundreds of thousands of jobs that will potentially be lost in the transport and logistics sector, or the hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk in retail.

The politics here is difficult and the messaging is complex. It should not be as hard as this government has made it.

Arthur Sinodinos was covering a fair bit of ground at the Press Club, and maybe that’s how some of the messaging got so mashed.

You can’t acknowledge people’s genuine concern about job-losses in outer-metropolitan and regional areas on the one hand, and then state blandly that “disruption is inevitable” and “embrace change” without specifically acknowledging where the impacts will be felt and empathising the pain it will cause.

That’s not a conversation, it comes across as a series of slogan.

And you can’t outline a response to these anxieties with a commitment to improving the representation of women and indigenous Australians in STEM without address the fears of the 50-year-old guy who will never hold a full-time job again.

Otherwise you’re speaking to the inner-cities only. And that drives people crazy.

But all this stuff is detail. The take-out from the Press Club was about industry-research-government collaboration. If Arthur Sinodinos can shift the needle here, we will have ourselves a very good new Industry minister.

We must now hope that he is allowed to stay in the role for long enough to make a real difference during what is a challenging era.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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