Michael Aitken: Australian hero

Stuart Kennedy

The old investment banker in Malcolm Turnbull would have been secretly chuffed at the recipient of this year’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.

Mr Turnbull had a glittering career in the world of finance before turning to politics, including a stint as the head of the local arm of Goldman Sachs, and would have been impressed by the FinTech credentials of Professor Michael Aitken, who took out the $250,000 Innovation gong.

Dr Aitken is Professor of ICT Strategy at Sydney’s Macquarie University and CEO of the Capital Markets CRC, as well as being its Chief Scientist. He has had a long career in devising financial software and methodologies that have made bourses worldwide fairer and more secure.

At the CMCRC Professor Aitken created the SMARTS fraud detection system that ended being bought by Nasdaq and is now a global stock exchange surveillance service adopted by more than 40 national exchanges and regulators and 150 brokers across 50 countries.

Stock market shonks would do well to steer clear of Professor Aitken’s cross hairs.

He has worked as an expert on many famous insider trading and market manipulation cases including Nomura Securities in 2001, Rodney Stephen Adler in 2002 and Daniel Joffe and Nathan Stromer in 2014.

His next project involves developing systems to watch over efficiency and fraud in the health market.

“One of the more important opportunities here relates to the efficacy of health intervention itself; this requires an evidence-driven approach to identifying which treatments deliver improved quality of life to consumers and which don’t,” Professor Aitken says.

“So here we are looking at maybe $20 billion per year that could be directed to improve healthcare in areas of genuine want,” he says.

Another innovation hero on the night was Dr Colin Hall who took out the inaugural $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for New Innovators.

A Senior Research Fellow at the Future Industries Institute at the University of South Australia, Dr Hall and his team came up with a new manufacturing process. The first commercial success is a plastic car wing-mirror that has no glass and is lighter and safer than traditional parts.

Ford has already bought more than 1.6 million mirror assemblies for use on their F-Series trucks. The mirrors are made in Adelaide by SMR Automotive and have earned $160 million in exports to date.

The Prime Minister is no stranger to being involved at innovation-centric companies such as software outfit and tech investor FTR Holdings, and he made a fortune out selling his personal stake in internet pioneer Ozemail to MCI Worldcom for $57 million.

At the awards, the PM noted he had been talking up Australia’s innovation prospects for a long time.
And to be fair to Mr Turnbull he has. I remember him rumbling out his innovation stump speech at a much humbler awards night back in 2011.

It was in front of a small crowd at the Consensus Software Awards in a dim inner city hotel and Mr Turnbull was at his best, wondering where economic growth, high paying jobs and the tax base to support social cohesion would come from when the Lucky Country’s assets like the mining sector fell away.

At the far fancier Science Awards Presentation Dinner in Parliament House, Mr Turnbull remembered all those innovation happy stumps.

“Now those of you that known me for a few years, know that I have been talking about innovation for a long time. Indeed, I said to Lucy a little while ago that I had been giving the same speech for quite a few years and she said yes, it’s just that they take more notice of it now that you are Prime Minister.”

“It is a very deep passion and commitment of mine, believe me. We secure out future by being faster. By being more inquiring, by being more innovative, by being, frankly more like you.

“We need to push to envelope; we need to defy the differentia. We need to overturn the convention; we have to be more like you, prepared to explore the unknown.”

The differentia defying PM handed out many other awards on the night including the big gong: The $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science which went to evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Shine of the University of Sydney.

Professor Shine won in recognition of his work to make sure the snakes and lizards in Northern Australia survive cane toad invasions.

Other Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science winners are:

  • Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson of the University of Queensland; $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Professor Richard Payne of the University of Sydney; Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Suzanne Urbaniak from Perth; $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
  • Gary Tilley from Sydney; $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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