An innovation nation – the race to the top

By LAURIE PATTON | 25 November 2015

There’s no reason why Australia cannot be a leader in the Internet-driven, industrial era.

It is unusual for our two major political parties to find themselves joined at the hip on an issue of progressive national policy. But in the case of innovation, that’s just what’s happened. For a time, Labor had this one all to itself. Then, all of a sudden, a new prime minister made innovation a personal crusade. Both sides are now fighting to show who has the best innovation policy.

This is great news – a race to the top, not the race to the bottom that so often marks down our political dialogue. Australia invented Wi-Fi, the heart pacemaker, the bionic ear, the black box flight recorder… So there’s no reason why we cannot be a leader in the next, Internet-driven, industrial era.

The new boss of the CSIRO, Larry Marshall, recently outlined a bold plan that will focus on commercialising some of the great work done by this oft-neglected national treasure. With former Telstra CEO David Thodey as his new chairman, we can expect some very positive results.

A year ago, the start-up sector in Australia was hardly even on the political radar. The Liberal’s Wyatt Roy and Labor’s Ed Husic have recently been appointed to high-profile roles within their respective parties devoted to working with and supporting start-ups. They’ve even travelled together to the United States to pick up pointers.

So how do we harness this new-found consensus and how do we ensure that it turns into something useful rather than simply a battle for votes? Internet Australia has called on the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to hold a bipartisan Digital Future Forum.

The idea is to get a range of peak representative organisations together to develop an agreed set of national priorities – just as countries like Israel and Singapore have done – and to agree that Australia’s future lies in becoming a key player in the digitally enabled, 21st Century global economy.

Digital innovation is vital to creating employment, developing new businesses, linking regional and remote communities and finding new ways for delivering health and education services. All vital to our economic and social wellbeing.

Of course, to achieve our potential as an innovation nation we’ll need fast, ubiquitous broadband. This is another area where we could do with some bipartisanship. Internet Australia has taken the view that we should stop arguing over how to build the nbn and concentrate on getting the work done, together.

(Laurie Patton was CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing the interests of Internet users, from 2014-2017. This article first appeared in ‘Technology Decisions‘.)