Australia must do better on innovation

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Australia is doing well at knowledge creation but not so well at its transfer and application according to the 2016 Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System by Innovation and Science Australia.

Innovation and Science Australia, chaired by Bill Ferris AC, was created by the Turnbull government and tasked with reviewing the performance of Australia's innovation system and leading the development of a 2030 strategic plan.

In its latest performance review, it finds Australia is performing well in global comparisons of total government R&D spending and even the number of researchers employed by government, but poorly in measures relating to collaboration with industry. These include the magnitude of venture capital investment and patent creation.

Australia's poor performance in commercialising R&D through affiliations between researchers and industry has been identified in multiple reviews. Successive governments have sought to address the issue through formal policy responses.

According to this latest performance review, in 2016–17, only 16 per cent of government funding for innovation program will specifically encourage knowledge transfer.

"There is substantial evidence that Australia is poor at translating and commercialising its strong research base," it says. "International data suggests that collaboration between the research and business community is weak, and mobility of people between academic and business careers is low. Changes are underway, with governments, research organisations and businesses increasingly looking to more formalised models and roles to facilitate relationships and collaboration."

One of the reports findings was that, while business does not cite regulation as a general barrier to innovation, "there are regulatory restrictions in some specific areas and there is evidence that the Australian Government’s procurement policies have not encouraged innovation as effectively as approaches in other countries."

The claim is from on a World Economic Forum report that ranked Australia 63 in the world, behind Namibia, Mali and Senegal, based on a survey of business that asked to what extent government purchasing decisions fostered innovation.

The new review also restated the need for Australia to improve as an attractive clinical trial research destination for investment.

"The clinical trial industry is facing increasing international competition, accordingly increased harmonisation of clinical trials standards is needed across the states and territories to retain and attract higher value pharmaceutical trials," it said, pointing to recently announced reforms.