We need an innovation council, says Australia’s chief scientist

Start-ups could benefit from the establishment of an Australian Innovation Council, proposed by Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb as one of five “breakthrough actions” to boost innovation.


Upon the request of the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council, Chubb has unveiled five actions governments could take to make Australia a more innovative nation.


They include the establishment of an Australian Innovation Council, which would have funds to allocate and work with research councils on shared funding priorities.


Among other things, the council would:

  • Identify areas of market demand for innovation in goods and services.
  • Catalyse innovation in these areas, particularly those linked to societal challenges.
  • Develop international links to both markets and know-how.

Selection criteria for innovation priority areas would consider the capacity of businesses to take the innovation to market or put it to use, and examine the quality and capacity of R&D needed to support further innovation.


Part of the assessment will be based on Australia’s capacity to deliver outcomes – whether we have the desired critical mass to develop and exploit the innovation.


The other breakthrough actions identified by Chubb include strengthening business access to publicly-funded research expertise, infrastructure and data; encouraging mobility of researchers between academia and business; and harmonising intellectual property frameworks across the publicly-funded research sector.


There would also be an emphasis on the role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in changing Australia’s innovation culture.


According to Chubb – who consulted organisations, peak bodies and individuals across government, industry and science sectors – there was a consistent view on what the breakthrough actions should be.


“We were told it is not just the effort that is important, but also the scale. Australia already has many support or incentive programs, which are considered useful,” Chubb said in a statement.


“The proposed actions offer the chance of doing things differently to increase the chances of success.”


Chubb said while high quality research is essential, priority must be given to the most pressing areas.


“It is probable that we will never have enough funding to support every research project that people would like to do; I can’t think of a time when we did,” he said.


“We need to understand the societal challenges we face right now and be able to say that we are addressing them.”


Chubb said the process for identifying research priorities is expected to lead to written advice to government departments and agencies, directing them to spend a proportion of their budget on the priorities identified.


Setting these priorities would be a rolling process, requiring evaluation and potential adjustment every two years.


“Not an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ each two years, but an opportunity to review and ensure that the most critical areas were receiving attention,” Chubb said.


However, Chubb stressed this new approach would not result in all funding being directed to the priority areas.


Rather, it would be balanced with continued investment in quality research outside the priorities.


“Similar strategic priority-setting for research is already taking place in the US, UK and the EU, and other countries,” Chubb said.


“It is imperative to Australia’s productivity, innovation, national wellbeing and place in the world that we do the same.”


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