Australia’s future prosperity will be propelled forward by technology and innovation, but “bold” new steps are needed if the nation is to fully unlock the economic benefits of the new industrial age, according to innovation leader and former federal minister Wyatt Roy.
In a keynote address at the InnovationAus 2023 Awards for Excellence on Wednesday night, Mr Roy was frank about the road that lies ahead for the Australian economy amid rapid technological and geopolitical change.
“The question for us as a country is when we are confronted with that change, and that fast, rapid pace of change, we have to decide, do we respond with fear?” he told the audience at the Horden Pavilion on Wednesday night.
“Or do we instead decide to embrace that change, to make that change our friend, to seize the opportunities that are presented in a rapidly changing world and create opportunities to drive prosperity and to gift a better country to the next generation?”
Mr Roy, who was the youngest person ever elected to federal Parliament in 2010, said that Australia had benefited from close to 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth prior to the pandemic – a “remarkable story” for the nation.
But continuing that success in the next 30 years means that Australia has to be bold in its actions, including through greater diversification of the the economy, in part to ensure that “young Australians continue to see the opportunities that Australians in the past have seen”.
“We have really significant strength in this country. We have a remarkable talent of bright, young, capable Australians creating those businesses, those products, those services that change the world,” he said.
“We live in the most interesting part of the world. To our north, there are a billion people coming into the middle class, and just [as Australia’s goods were bought in the past] those people… will look to engage on the innovation side of the economy. That is where new prosperity will lie for us.”
For Mr Roy, arriving at that destination will require structural changes that span taxation, employment conditions and Australia’s federated system of government, which he acknowledges will result in a “big contest of ideas”, but ought to be a “shared national mission”.
And it comes at a time when the social contract with the next generation of Australian is changing, due to an ageing population and increased government spending on schemes like Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“We have this amazing talent pool, this incredible new economic powerhouse, that will drive that prosperity for the next generation and enable us to give [the next generation] a country that hopefully has more opportunity, not less, despite those challenges,” Mr Roy said.
“We will have to have a conversation as a country about what sort of tax system do we want and how are we competitive. We will have to have a conversation about how we have a workforce that reflects the modern world and empowers people and gives them flexibility.
“We’ll have to have a conversation about how our federation works and what’s the responsibility for a federal government and the state governments, and where should they act and where shouldn’t they.
“All of those things will be difficult, hard, partisan conversations. But the one big unlock that I think all of the country can agree on is that the big driver of productivity is innovation, technology, entrepreneurship in every part of our economy, in our society.
“And that should be a shared national mission across all elements of our political spectrum, because that will be the thing that will really make the difference over the next 20, 30 or 40 years as a country.”
The now-advisor to solar cell innovator SunDrive Solar also said that the transition to a net zero world was a great opportunity for Australia to build new industry and jobs while delivering environmental results.
“Australian innovation, Australian technology as we transition will be the thing that unlocks that opportunity and ensures that every single corner of this country can share in that new economic growth story,” he said.
Describing Australia as a “lifestyle superpower”, Mr Roy also commented on the “billions of dollars in private funding… [that] is now flowing into the innovation ecosystem, compared with only 10 years ago”.
“Before my time in government, there was less than $200 million invested in venture capital in Australia. That’s less than we bet on the Melbourne Cup, which does say a little bit about Australia,” he said.
“Between 2017 and 2021, we saw $24.6 billion of private capital invested through venture capital into innovation in our country. That is a remarkable achievement for a very, very short space of time.”
The tech sector is now the third biggest contributor to the Australian economy, behind only the industries of mining and banking, is a “remarkable change in a very, very short space of time”, Mr Roy said.
He said the country is on track to reach the goal – set by the Tech Council of Australia and adopted by the federal government – of having 1.2 million Australians working in technology-related fields by 2030.
“This is the best place to live, to work, to start and grow a company anywhere in the world. And when we are competing with every other country to attract that talent. That is an enormous strength,” he said.
The InnovationAus 2023 Awards for Excellence celebrated the success of local companies and individuals across 13 categories, including cybersecurity, energy and renewables, manufacturing and software.
BluGlass, a laser diode manufacturer that is pioneering the development and commercialisation of a new semiconductor technology that has been decades in the making, was crowned Australian Hero for the year.
The InnovationAus 2022 Awards for Excellence were supported by: Investment NSW, AusIndustry, Australian Computer Society, Technology Council of Australia, CSIRO, Agile Digital, TechnologyOne, IP Australia, METS Ignited and Q-CTRL.
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