Connecting the new tech precincts

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Australian governments at all levels must work together to foster “innovation precincts” and in the process improve public-private collaboration and commercialisation, according to a new report.

The federal Industry department quietly released a statement of principles for Australian innovation precincts recently, a document that provides “non-prescriptive guidance on best-practice”, as compiled by its University Precincts Advisory Committee.

“Australia has an opportunity today to leverage our world-class researchers, competitive industries and science infrastructure to drive economic growth, create thriving communities and create quality jobs in future industries,” the statement said.

“Australia enjoys a prosperous reputation as the ‘lucky country’. If all stakeholders take steps to foster place-based innovation and collaborative local, regional and national networks in line with this statement of principles, we can utilise Australia’s world-class assets to make our own luck and ensure a bright future.”

The statement of principles is part of government’s response to one of the recommendations from Innovation and Science Australia’s 2030 report with an aim to improve commercialisation in Australia.

“Around Australia, governments at the state, territory and local levels are demonstrating increased interest in fostering innovation precincts in their own jurisdictions. This is a welcome trend, given that most evidence points to the critical role of local leadership in driving successful innovation precincts,” the report said.

“However, to fully realise the potential of these developments, it will be important for the Australian government to work with state and local governments and to outline its role in supporting such precincts.

“Areas for consideration should include removing regulatory barriers, aligning policy and capability building through sharing of best practice, skills development and funding support.”

The statement aims to guide “best practice in innovation precinct developments and operation”, and provides a range of recommendations to foster the development and growth of such areas.

It outlines four principles: local leadership, removing barriers and aligning policy, building capacity and connections and skills development.

“Innovation precincts enable partnerships between businesses, researchers, universities and governments to flourish. The Australian government has developed this flexible statement together with universities, industry and state and territory governments,” industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews said.

“Stakeholder feedback has revealed common principles will make it easier for new and existing precincts to have more of an impact,” she said.

Innovation precincts, such as the Randwick Health and Education Super Precinct and the UNSW Torch Innovation Precinct, can be used to grow levels of collaboration and innovation, and capitalise on Australia’s world-class universities, the statement said.

“There is strong evidence innovation precincts improve collaboration and innovation outcomes that contribute to business and economic growth. There are many existing and planned innovation precincts in Australia that frequently facilitate collaboration, multidisciplinary research and innovation,” the statement said.

“However, the scale of many of these innovation precincts is much lower in Australian than in comparably developed countries in North America or Europe, and their full potential is arguably less widely understood among participants,” it said.

“There is a risk that policy fragmentation within and across governments could limit the advancement of innovation that is place-based and innovation precincts as a shared goal.”

The report points to the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct as one of the country’s best innovation precincts, playing home to the likes of the University of Melbourne, Monash University, CSIRO and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The federal government has said that it is “working towards a future where innovation precincts are an integral part of the broader national innovation system by 2030”.

“The Australian government will also work to align its existing initiatives to remove barriers to innovation precinct development. This includes better aligning industry, innovation and science policy, regional policy and city deals, and Austrade efforts to market Australia as an innovation country,” the statement said.

Improved growth in innovation precincts can improve public and private collaboration, drive cultural change, simplify engagement for SMEs and provide a “flexible approach for partnerships between industry, researchers, educators and governments”.

While there are already about 60 such precincts around the country, Australia is behind much of the rest of the world in terms of these areas.

“Despite this activity, almost all of Australia’s innovation precincts and regional industry and innovation clusters are small-scale and do not play a significant role compared with other countries,” the report said.

“In the Global Innovation Index and Global Competitiveness Index, Australia ranks 39th and 40th respectively in terms of cluster development,” the report said.

“This indicates that there is more to be done to build clusters and capture their potential future benefits.”

The federal government can help to foster this collaboration and reduce the regulation that can get in the way, the group found.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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