NSW Labor unveils innovation policy 

James Riley
Editorial Director

A future NSW Labor Government said it would appoint the state’s first chief entrepreneur and establish a new unit called Enterprise NSW as part of a commitment to simplify government’s approach to innovation.

“NSW Labor will place innovation at the heart of government, and it will sit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. We all know if you’re serious about something you put it in that part of government and that’s what we’re doing,” Shadow Minister for Innovation Yasmin Catley has told InnovationAus.com.

“Currently, there are four ministers who deal with innovation. There’s Niall Blair, John Barillaro, Victor Dominello, and sometimes Matt Kean. There’s no coordination at the moment, so we think it’s critical to have Enterprise NSW at the heart of government.”

Yasmin Catley: A NSW Chief Entrepreneur will conduct an audit of all existing programs

Enterprise NSW would work across agencies and “play a central coordination role” to consolidate a variety of existing units and programs, according to Ms Catley.

“We’ve been told people are unsure about where to go, so there needs to be that central focal point and we believe the unit will deliver that,” she said.

“It will mean the relationship between stakeholders and the government’s innovating chief entrepreneur will be much more strengthened and therefore people will know where to go and what’s available.”

While there is no direct mention of whether Labor would continue to support existing and recently announced initiatives by the Berejiklian Government, Ms Catley said the first role of the chief entrepreneur – who will report to the premier and the innovation minister – will be to conduct an audit to find out what funds are going where.

This audit would cover funding for Jobs for NSW, the $35 million investment into a Sydney Startup Hub, any potential grants and funding to support the local tech sector, and digital delivery of government services and digital procure marketplaces in NSW.

“It is not the intention to stop what’s being done at the moment. The chief entrepreneur will be looking to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck, and that’s just good governance,” Ms Catley said.

“There is currently no structure or strategy for innovation in the state. This will put a framework and strategy in place to make sure innovation is at the heart of government, and there’s a coordinated approach to delivering innovation going forward.”

“The other thing to is there is no measurement of success in any of this either. This will also be a role of the chief entrepreneur, to measure how successful everything is, so we’re able to know whether we can continue to fund that going forward after the current Budget period.

“If it’s not working, then we want to redirect funding towards what else we should be looking at.”

One agenda item that Labor has confirmed it is backing with $20 million funding is a program for universities to open spaces like makerspaces to the broader community.

Prof Roy Green, a Special Innovation Adviser at the University of Technology Sydney and chair of the UTS Innovation Council, said Labor’s innovation initiative is a step in the right direction, particularly when it comes to makerspaces – something that is currently available at UTS is only used for sophisticated research.

“It’s the first time ever we’ve seen makerspace mentioned in anyone’s policy announcement. It’s such a gap at the moment in NSW,” Prof Green said.

“There are few informal makerspaces but there’s nothing invested by the public sphere in getting young people to think a product isn’t just an app on a smartphone, but it could be something that they make, they sell in international market, and add value,” he said.

“Young people in northern Europe and some parts of the US are immersed in a manufacturing culture. Here, the message is manufacturing is dead. But it’s not dead … it’s just moved to industry 4.0, which connects the digital world to the more tangible world of products.”

Establishing so-called regional innovation districts in regions including Western Sydney, Illawarra and the Hunter is also on the priority list. Ms Catley said Labor plans to appoint at least five innovation coordinators to help form innovation councils that will oversee these districts.

“We see the regions not as being utilised as they should be. Currently it’s very city centric and there are a lot of capabilities in our region, our regional universities, our TAFE, our councils all have capacity, but again there’s no coordination,” she said.

“There are already renewables in the Hunter, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and med tech in the west, mining, aerospace, defence. We need to make sure we’re capitalising on those comparative advantages.”

Labor’s will follow in the footsteps of the Queensland and South Australian Labor Government that have taken similar approaches to innovation in their states.

“We’re certainly been looking at [Queensland and SA] in terms of this role. Anyone you speak to say they’ve been successful,” Ms Catley said.

“They have had a concentration of looking across government and now innovation is entrenched in all of their government agencies. They also have a good international focus and work with the business community extremely well, so we have no doubt the chief entrepreneur role will significantly expand NSW’s capacity to do the same.”

As for who will take up the role as chief entrepreneur, Ms Catley said: “I don’t imagine the chief entrepreneur being a bureaucrat. The role aims to engage a creative disruptor or problem solver drawn from outside government. We’re taking this very, very seriously.

“They will work with external stakeholders, industry, academia, within government, the private sector to identify any blockages, threats, opportunities inside the government.

“We think the chief entrepreneur is a critical role in bringing together and making sure that innovation is front and centre of Labor government.”

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