Innovation policy requires coherence and continuity: Brungs

Photo: Nathan Rodger

Photo: Nathan Rodger

In summary: 
  • The first innovation debate of the Federal election campaign, hosted by UTS, highlighted an urgent need for bipartisan commitment and collaboration.
  • Speakers agreed innovation was the key to Australia’s future prosperity, requiring broader thinking and new skills and capabilities for roles and industries that didn’t yet exist.

The emerging consensus that innovation is critical to Australia’s future prosperity is heartening but this must be translated into real benefits for an economy in transition, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs said yesterday, introducing the first ministerial debate on innovation of the election campaign.

Across the globe, jobs as we know them are changing rapidly and completely, Professor Brungs said. In Australia, the end of the resources boom meant a huge adjustment to an economy based on knowledge-based products and services was needed.

“This will mean creating new businesses and transforming existing ones, which will require new skills and capabilities. Building a strong innovation system in Australia is critical to this endeavour,” he said.

Professor Brungs was opening the InnovationAus debate between the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, and Labor’s Digital Innovation and Startups spokesman, Ed Husic. The debate was held in the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, home of UTS Business School.

Professor Brungs called for coherence and continuity in innovation policy as he opened the event. “We need bipartisan, ongoing commitment to supporting and fostering innovation,” he said, not a start-stop approach.

He also suggested that while Australia was great at ideas and invention, what was missing was greater collaboration around those ideas.

“[But] we should resist a simplistic approach to collaboration centred on research commercialisation. It is broader and more sophisticated than that and must recognise our national industry structure with its predominance of SMEs,” he said.

“Innovation is often the application of the current state of the art with new business models or processes … [It] is not just about research or huge technological breakthroughs but incremental innovation, cross-fertilisation, adaptation and systems integration. At its heart innovation is about people and people-to-people interaction.”

Australia could scale up its innovation successes more broadly across the economy, particularly among SMEs and “micro-multinationals”, he said, referring to niche businesses operating in the global marketplace.

Professor Brungs noted the OECD had warned that economic disruption caused by technological change would hit the poorly educated hardest.

“We need not only to increase the education levels of our society but fundamentally rethink the skills people will need and how we support them acquiring these skills,” he said. “Some of these are numeracy and digital skills, others are sense-making skills or sophisticated interaction skills in virtual, real and cross-cultural contexts.”

UTS had revolutionised its teaching approaches to ensure graduates were prepared not only for their first job but for their first 20 jobs – many of which would be in roles and industries that didn’t currently exist, he said.

He noted that 40 per cent of the university’s students now wanted to create their own jobs and own ventures and the university was supporting such endeavours with programs such as the Hatchery pre-incubator, the cross-faculty Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, the Masters of Data Science and Innovation, and the new MBA in Entrepreneurship.

“In the future we need to support, drive and nurture innovation right across the country, in all parts of the economy – we need to think about innovation more broadly than we currently do,” Professor Brungs told an audience that included leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Quite simply, we need a positive environment in which all the companies and individuals who actually drive innovation in the economy can get on and do their thing.”

Assistant Minister Angus Taylor told the debate that innovation and digital transformation was “at the heart of prosperity and growth” and noted that Australians no longer had to go overseas but could occupy global niches from here.

But while the government could provide the right environment for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish, it was not its role to replace venture capital and the market. Government was a “facilitator”.

Mr Husic told the event “we have to win the innovation debate outside this room”.

People didn’t know what innovation meant and were fearful of technology as a destroyer of jobs – when in fact it was the key to their prosperity.

Wrapping up the debate, Peta Portelli, from the first cohort of the MBA in Entrepreneurship at UTS, said it was time for “the Lucky Country” to start making its own luck.

And it was time for Australia to hail its innovation champions as much as its sporting heroes, she said.

“We also need to understand that innovation can happen anywhere – from the smallest startup to the largest corporation,” she said. “No one has a monopoly on the terms ‘innovation’ or ‘entrepreneurship’.”

To see a recording of the debate, click here

To learn more about UTS programs facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship, click here

Business and Law