Turnbull’s board goes heavy on VC

James Riley
Editorial Director

Malcolm Turnbull’s powerful new Innovation and Science Australia Board is heavy on venture capital and entrepreneurial representation and goes light on science and tertiary and institutional research. And it has eschewed the usual roster of old-school ‘safe pair of hands’ business leaders.

The five men and two women who will join the board under chairman Bill Ferris have all enjoyed extraordinary careers and bring a mix of entrepreneurial and commercial management expertise across platform economics, bio-medical, agritech and broad spectrum venture capital.

And of course, the board’s deputy chair is the Australia Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. The appointments are:

• Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist (Deputy Chair)
• Ms Maile Carnegie, CEO Google Australia and New Zealand
• Mr Scott Farquhar, Co-founder and CEO Atlassian
• Mr Daniel Petre AO, Partner AirTree Ventures
• Mr Paul Bassat, Co-founder Square Peg Capital and Co-founder SEEK
• Dr Chris Roberts, Non-Executive Director ResMed
• Dr Michele Allan, Chancellor Charles Sturt University (reappointed)

Innovation and Science Australia is a new statutory board that was created as a part of Mr Turnbull’s National Innovation and Science Agenda announced in December.

It is tasked with providing not only the strategic direction of Innovation and Science policy, but will have direct influence on how the Commonwealth’s investment in research and commercial enterprise is directed – through policy levers ranging from the direct and indirect R&D subsidies, and even university research funding structures.

This is a powerful collective. The board sits at the centre of the Innovation and Science Agenda, and is given broad oversight of the policy levers that will direct this government’s stated goal of transitioning from its current reliance on resources and energy sector income.

Excluding the chairman, Bill Ferris, the ISA board of seven members is modest in size, perhaps leaving room for further appointments. Certainly there appear to be expertise gaps in the bigger innovation picture.

The seven board members are heavily, heavily weighted to representatives from the eastern states – exclusively from New South Wales and Victoria. From an industry perspective, manufacturing and defence industries seem missing.

“Every level of our Government is focused on a more innovative, enterprising Australia and a more innovative and enterprising Government,” the Prime Minister said. “Now the National Innovation and Science Australia Board is going to be critical to providing us with that advice.”

“You can see that it has got a number of leading businessmen and women on it, and the reason for that is that it is vital that we work closely with industry and academia and business and venture capital to ensure that we get the right inspiration, [and] the right stimulation for investment,” he said.

The board appointments were announced at a press conference held in the Blue Room at Parliament House. Such is the obsession about the process issues driving the timing of the next election, the new Innovation and Science Australia board announcement did not elicit a single question about the innovation board, or about the economy in transition.

Instead, the questions were about Senate strategies, the potential triggers for a double dissolution election and finished with a query about tax on cigarettes.

Each of the appointments is interesting, but Maile Carnegie is fascinating. As CEO of Google Australia and New Zealand, this would be a somewhat controversial appointment – but she soon leaves to Head of Digital at the ANZ Bank.

But regardless, Ms Carnegie experience in FMCG while at Proctor and Gamble, together with platform technology of Google and business experience across Asia (and her relative youth) make this a somewhat out of the box decision.

The depth of Dr Chris Roberts experience across the biotech and medtech field through Cochlear and ResMed play to a deep pool of Australian expertise, just as Michele Allan’s experience in agritech and food innovation point to a sector where Australia enjoys an existing competitive advantage.

Scott Farquhar and Paul Bassat are two of Australia’s most successful ever tech entrepreneurs, while Daniel Petre was already well-known as a successful tech industry executive before his current career in building new tech companies as a successful VC.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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