Get set for a new innovation revolution. The Rudd Government is set to announce a review of innovation policies that will look at the national innovation system, but also examine individual industries including the car industry and the textile, clothing and footwear industry.
Federal Innovation Minister Kim Carr is believed to be finalising the members of the reviews and terms of reference for the inquiries, which will also include a review of the Co-operative Research Centres, set up by a former Labor government in 1991.
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The news will be welcomed by the business community, which has been clamouring for a national innovation program after years of sliding down the scale in the OECD innovation and R&D ratings. Labor won approval before the election by promising to create a national system instead of the 169 separate state and federal policies.
The Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and some state governments, notably the Victorian Government, have been pushing for a cohesive national agenda to ensure Australia is not sidelined in the global marketplace.
Business groups have argued that size is not an excuse, with countries like Sweden and Finland able to nurture technology intensive industries through the education system, tax incentives for R&D and good infrastructure.
But the inquiry will open a much wider debate that will engulf academics and businesses alike, and cover old and new ground. Will the Government support clusters or winners? Should the Government prop up ailing industries like manufacturing or take a completely different approach to the emerging advanced manufacturing industry?
How will the skills shortage crisis be incorporated into the innovation strategy? How on earth can small businesses get access to the research facilities in universities in a way that is cost effective and efficient?
Will some of the excellent programs that former minister for industry Ian Macfalane set up like COMET be dismantled? And if so, will something better take its place?
And how many major initiatives can be announced when the Government is taking the razor to a wide range of programs?
The debates and reviews may take time and it could be that the innovation revolution will be the centerpiece of the 2009 budget, as there are reports that the major review will feed into that budget and not 2008.
But at least the debate is starting, and Australia no longer has to listen to rhetoric from Macfarlane telling us that all is fine in the world of innovation as the world passes us by.