Exclusive: Minister maps out Qld’s next innovation play

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

After more than two decades of building its research infrastructure and an entrepreneur base, Queensland’s next innovation strategy will focus on developing and transforming entire industries by building up the state’s innovation precincts.

Queensland’s Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport Stirling Hinchliffe, on Friday launched a discussion paper for the state’s next 10-year whole of government innovation strategy, which was informed by economic analysis of a large government investment in innovation hubs and precincts like the Herston Health Precinct and the Princess Alexandra Hospital precinct, which includes the Translational Research Institute.

The plan is focused on building up the precincts and several others throughout the state with specialised infrastructure and workforce skills to enable more collaboration between researchers and corporates and better specialisation by firms.

“Future innovation policy will really need to include how we can support precincts and hubs to achieve those things and what they do to accelerate job creation,” Mr Hinchliffe told InnovationAus.

Queensland Innovation Minister Stirling Hinchliffe

A final innovation “places” plan is expected next year based on feedback to the discussion paper, and will cover the decade up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and Paralympics.

The discussion paper has been heavily influenced by economic analysis by the University of Queensland, which modelled the benefits of a long-term $5.5 billion dollar investment in three of the state’s current health and life sciences innovation precincts.

The analysis predicted the government investment – which would upgrade the precincts based on leading international models where government, industry and research work closely together to create synergies and agglomeration effects in a more efficient ecosystem — would lead to $11 billion in new revenue and create 80,000 new jobs.

The researcher who conducted the analysis told InnovationAus the return of roughly double is actually quite modest as far as large state investments go and does not fully factor the displacement of technology changes or large external disruptions.

But for these reasons, estimates are conservative and the state government has much to gain from applying the practices of world leaders to its three health innovation precincts, UQ Emeritus Professor John Mangan said.

“We have these three [innovation] areas that are going to be there anyway. [We analysed] which is the best way to manage and combine them to maximise economic benefit.

“It’s really like an efficiency exercise,” Professor Mangan told InnovationAus.

Mr Hincliffe said the government is considering applying the approach to the state’s other innovation precincts, and the UQ analysis was discussed at a Cabinet meeting earlier this week.

He believes robust innovation precincts can put Queensland at the forefront of the global technological revolution and open up more export opportunities. But the minister acknowledged more will need to be done to increase workforce skills in the state, adding he is also open to any other recommendations on improving innovation outcomes as part of the consultation, including if the government needs to get out of the way more.

“We’re actually putting this out there to industry to say ‘give us feedback about this and what do you think?’”

The consultation process began informally earlier this year with the appointment of Wayne Gerard as Queensland’s chief entrepreneur, who works with the government on innovation policy alongside an innovation advisory council.

“That team had been going out there engaging significantly with the sector, with the ecosystem as it were. Including not just startups and innovators and research institutions and other researchers, but also with venture capital, with corporates, with all with the broader parts of the ecosystem.”

The state’s current flagship innovation program is Advance Queensland, a wide-ranging scheme delivered across nine government departments in partnership with industry, universities, investors and the state’s chief entrepreneur.

Mr Hinchliffe said Advance Queensland had been very successful, with $755 million of government investment supporting more than 7,000 projects since it was launched in 2015. But he would not rule out major changes.

“There’s really good things in there. We’re certainly not throwing the throwing the baby out [with the bathwater]. But I think the key thing that we’re seeking validation around and feedback on is how do we take this to the next stage.”

Advance Queensland was the successor to the ‘Smart State’ program of the late 1990s and early 2000s where government invested heavily in research infrastructure to attract scientists.

Mr Hinchliffe said Advance Queensland took this infrastructure and talent attraction program to the next innovation phase by supporting businesses and entrepreneurs to turn the research into economic opportunities. The next innovation places plan is about taking another step to turn the promising ideas and companies into new industries.

“The thing we want to sort of flesh out [is] how do we do this is? How do we take that know-how and economic capability to the stage of creating industries … Not just a few startup companies but genuine industries that are based off this this this know-how.”

Mr Hinchcliffe expects the new industries will include offshoots of the state’s traditional strengths like mining and agriculture through things like advanced safety and automation equipment and agtech. But emerging Queensland industries like advanced medical technology and renewable energy are also in the sights of the government, which has pledged $2 billion to develop state owned renewables and hydrogen assets and infrastructure.

He said he wants those industries to flourish and, importantly, keep as much of the related manufacturing in the state as possible to turn any innovation boom into jobs.

Mr Hincliffe, who added Minister Assisting the Premier on Olympics and Paralympics Sport and Engagement to his innovation, tourism and sport portfolios on Thursday, said the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and Paralympics will be used as an innovation aspirational goal.

He said Brisbane 2032 creates an opportunity to build out sports, transport and infrastructure technologies and the government is keenly aware of the potential the attention the Games will draw to the Sunshine State.

Mr Hincliffe rejected criticism from previous state chief entrepreneurs, who have been critical of both too much government control and also a lack of genuine attention to innovation.

“There’s no way that the entire system is controlled by governments, frankly…you couldn’t. It’s just ridiculous. We do get great feedback from the sector that they appreciate that the role that the [Advance Queensland] program plays,” he said.

The innovation minister said the state government is conscious of how bureaucracy can slow down emerging companies.

“We’re not trying to create bureaucracy or barriers to people innovating and getting out there to market. We’re literally just trying to consult on how can we help. And if the answer is get out of the way, we listen.”

Mr Hincliffe added the “revamp” of the chief entrepreneur role earlier this year included connecting it with the Premier’s office and briefings to cabinet, which he said have been well received so far.

“That’s a demonstration and message to the whole government that this is a role that’s important to everyone,” Mr Hinchcliffe said.

“And the whole of government needs to be engaged in this prospect.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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