Don Punch on WA’s innovation priorities


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Western Australia’s new Innovation Minister Don Punch wants more IP kept in the state, government services reshaped around citizen needs, and to grow the local ICT sector through state procurement and more industry awareness about often-overlooked homegrown options.

“The key aspects I’m really looking at in the innovation area is how we translate the five [Western Australia] universities output of research and applied research into commercial outcomes, commerciality generally, and how we scale innovation,” Mr Punch told InnovationAus.

“Critical to all that is retaining the IP within Western Australia, and linking people effectively to development capital.”

The Western Australian government’s role in that mix is leadership and financing, Mr Punch said, pointing to grants programs, university partnerships and the continued support for the state’s four innovation hubs, which focus on cyber security, life sciences, mining equipment, technology and services, and data science.

“All of those are seen as playing into areas that we really seriously want to develop,” Mr Punch said in his first interview on the innovation portfolio.

Mark McGowan and Don Punch
Innovation lead: Mark McGowan has appointed first-time minister Don Punch to the Innovation and ICT portfolio

Mr Punch entered Parliament in 2017 after nearly 40 years in the public service and was awarded the Innovation and ICT portfolios this year after Mark McGowan’s Labor government was returned in March.

The first-time minister said he is “open to discussions” about how the government might better leverage its own expenditure in the innovation and ICT space. But he noted state government already looks for a number of social outcomes from its procurement, including regional and skill development, and gender equity.

He also said the private sector has an important role to play in industry development, particularly large corporates who may be overlooking local opportunities.

“Government procurement is part of that [development] but industry itself has a role to play,” Mr Punch told InnovationAus.

“Because I’m aware that there are large corporations in Western Australia that go offshore. And I do think that that’s happened because of the lack of awareness about what’s available.”

Mr Punch said he was encouraged by the sophistication and competitiveness of the local sector in his first few months as Innovation Minister, and it is important to raise awareness about what is available in the local innovation sector.

“A really good understanding of the industry structure as it currently exists [is not easily accessible]. And I think that’s a very important starting point in terms of how you actually build on the industry strengths, because there is enormous capability in WA but it tends to be a little bit hidden,” Mr Punch said.

“Bringing that out into the open and building on the strengths that we have, looking at the opportunities to grow the workforce and the skill sets associated with the workforce [is important] as our economy shifts to a more technology based economy into the future.”

Mr Punch, who also holds the Disability Services, Fisheries, and Seniors and Ageing portfolio last month launched the state’s whole-of-government digital strategy, a roadmap that promises a more inclusive, more citizen centric approach to service delivery.

“You have to put people at the forefront. Really, the ultimate test is how does this improve the quality of life for our communities? How well does it work for them from their point of view, rather than from an agency or a government point of view, and how seamless is the interaction?”

Department roadmaps are now being prepared and will contain the individual digital service programs. Costing for the strategy and governance frameworks will be revealed in the state budget in September.

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