‘We’re more than a resource state’: WA chief scientist

Brandon How

Following two innovation trade missions to the United States and Europe last month, Western Australia’s chief scientist Professor Peter Klinken is hoping the state will be seen internationally as more than just a resources hub.

Western Australia’s Minister for Innovation Stephen Dawson led the mission to the United States across San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Seattle, Houston. The mission across London, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen was led by WA’s Deputy Premier Roger Cook.

Professor Klinken said that the state needs to change its narrative and present itself as internationally attractive for investment beyond the resource sector.

“There’s a moment where people are going, ‘Oh, what’s going on, over there? Looks like they’ve got something interesting going on’… but we also need to have a really clear narrative that we’re more than a resource sector, that we do have great remote operations capability, we’re great at doing space, and we’re good at MedTech,” Professor Klinken said.

Western Australian Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken. Image: Government House Western Australia

Companies in the US were particularly surprised by how advanced remote operations, robotics, automation, and space technology is in Western Australia, according to Professor Klinken. He said that on Monday he attended a ministerial meeting with a huge multinational company looking at opportunities in WA.

During the trip to Germany, the Deputy Premier launched the state’s critical minerals prospectus to attract investment in projects across the critical minerals supply chain.

The “significant interest” is bolstered by the potential for clean energy that the state offers. He said there was a particular interest in the energy security that partnerships in Western Australia could provide in Europe, given the greater potential scale projects in the state can take.

“[The Western Australian innovation sector] could be one of the fastest, maybe the fastest growing jurisdiction in Australia at the moment. Other areas are more mature, but we are picking up very rapidly. If you look on the whole at the biotech sector, Western Australia doubled its activity In the last five years or so,” Professor Klinken said.

The trip to the United States included attendance at the world’s largest BioTech conference, a visit to Stanford University to understand how to best support innovation, a meeting with Microsoft, a visit to the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, and the Biosphere research facility run by the University of Arizona.

While in Europe, the mission attended London Tech Week, visited several universities, and the European Space Agency. Professor Klinken describes Europe as a “reliable partner”.

He shared some details of the trip with InnovationAus.com but noted that there was a number of meetings that he was not able to share.

When Professor Klinken first became the Western Australian Chief Scientist in 2014, he said the innovation sector was struggling. Members of the innovation sector told him they weren’t feeling valued and felt innovation was not really supported by the state.

He said it was “really important and really useful for Minister Stephen Dawson, and public servants from Western Australia to see what is on offer in the United States”. In particular he’d like to see more initiatives that facilitate partnerships between government, industry, and academia.

“Innovation is crucial to the future. It’s crucial for diversifying the economy and for state development…so it was great for both of [Minister Dawson and Minister Cook] to be exposed to all of these different opportunities,” Professor Klinken said.

“They’ve come back enthused and want to see how this can be implemented here in Western Australia.”

Member of the Western Australia Legislative Assembly Christine Tonkin is currently preparing a report for the Minister for Innovation including several policy recommendations developed an innovation roundtable at the end of May. The head of representative group StartupWA Jason Balchand, who was in attendance at the roundtable, has previously called for better industry data to better support innovation in Western Australia.

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