Latest News

Australia’s need for innovation

PACE Magazine Zenith Awards

Maria Vamvakinou MHR

Chair, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation

Representing Senator Kim Carr

Minister for Innovation, Industry,

Science and Research

18 June 2008

Sydney, NSW

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a tremendous pleasure and a great honour to be part of the PACE Magazine Zenith Awards.

My colleague Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, has asked me to convey his apologies for not being here this evening. As many of you will know, he is busy championing the cause of Australian industry in Japan and the United States. He is meeting with automotive industry leaders in Tokyo and Detroit, and with biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry leaders in New York and San Diego.

As you can see, we are casting our net wide. This government stands ready to support any industry with a global outlook and a commitment to innovation. Before the last election we promised to accelerate the take-up of new technology and give Australian firms access to the best ideas from around Australia and around the world. We promised to make Australia’s innovation system truly international, by supporting collaboration and foreign investment in Australian R&D.

Australia is already a clever country, and we want the world to know that. At the same time, we can’t afford to be complacent. We need to be working on our innovation capacity all the time — seizing opportunities to create and acquire new knowledge wherever they arise.

That’s one of the most exciting things about Toyota’s announcement last week that it will build its hybrid Camry in Australia from 2010. This is a big win for Australia and it took a real team effort to talk Toyota around from its original plan to base all regional hybrid production in Thailand. Yes, it will lead to significant new investment. Yes, it will generate high-skill, high-wage jobs. Yes, it will mark an important first step towards carving out a new niche for Australia in the global automotive production system.

But it will do more than that. It will involve the transfer of state-of-the-art engineering know-how to Australia — know-how we don’t presently possess. It will stimulate the development of new skills and capabilities. It will be accompanied by significant extra spending on local R&D, enabling us to create our own new knowledge — knowledge we can then export to the rest of the world.

This is not just another investment. It is an investment with the potential to transform the Australian automotive industry, and all the other industries that intersect with it. That’s why we were ready to fight for it.

There are some who think governments shouldn’t get involved in this kind of thing. There are some who think we should stand back and let the invisible hand work its magic. We beg to differ. Industry development has never happened by magic. It happens when governments and the private sector join forces to get projects off the ground. It happens when governments understand the needs of industry, understand the realities of global competition, and understand the importance of co-investment to generating activity that benefits not just individual firms, but the entire community.

History shows that an activist industry policy can make a difference. We know, for example, that manufacturing grew much faster under the creative industry policies of the late John Button than it did in the years before 1983 or after 1996.The present government has created a new portfolio of innovation, industry, science and research to underscore our belief that in today’s world, industry policy cannot be separated from innovation policy.

Australia can’t undersell the low-cost producers who increasingly dominate global markets. We have to outsmart them.

We have to offer products and services with a clear edge in design, technology, quality, safety and environmental responsibility. In a word, we have to innovate.

In January we launched a root-and-branch review of the national innovation system. The review panel, chaired by Dr Terry Cutler, will report next month, and the government will respond with a policy white paper by the end of the year.

Taken together, the industries served by our process and control engineers — manufacturing, mining, transport, energy and so on — account for about three-fifths of Australia’s business R&D spending. That makes them an integral part of the national innovation system. This review affects you.

Our aim is to increase capacity, concentrate activity, improve connections, and unlock creativity across the system. It is especially important that we improve links between private firms and public researchers.

That’s the idea behind Enterprise Connect, a national network of manufacturing and innovation centres that will act as a gateway to Australia’s innovation infrastructure for small and medium-sized enterprises.

This $250 million initiative was one of our key election promises, and it was launched last month.

Enterprise Connect is all about promoting innovation and excellence.

The PACE magazine Zenith Awards are about the same thing. These awards, now in their fifth year, were established to recognise and reward leadership in engineering and technological excellence and innovation.

If we want to hold our own internationally, we need high-achievers. And when we find such people, we should nurture and applaud them.

That’s what we are here for tonight.

I want to congratulate all of tonight’s winners, all of the nominees, and all of the great people who stand behind them.

Thank you for the contribution you’ve made — not just to this business or that industry, but to the country.

We are all in your debt, and I know that the Rudd Government looks forward to working closely with you all.

Send this to a friend