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Innovation plan plots the right course, but getting there will be harder

"The goals set in Innovation and Science Australia's new strategic plan contain much good sense and industry looks forward to working with the Government, academia and the community to put the plan into action," Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said today.

"There is no doubt that Australia's continued prosperity depends on our ability to develop, adapt and adopt new knowledge to lift performance in business, government and society. We need to keep developing and attracting some of the best minds in the world. Just as importantly, we need to remain open to the best ideas and technologies wherever they come from.

"The Plan's placement of Education as the first imperative reflects its foundational and ongoing role across the economy and is strongly supported by Ai Group. In transforming workplaces that are increasingly complex the capabilities developed through all education sectors provide the base for any innovative activity.

"In regard to the R&D recommendations, these will need careful design and extensive consultation with industry and others, particularly the proposed ‘trigger’ and collaboration premium in the Research and Development Tax Incentive. The demand-driven R&D incentive has been successful, and while the latest proposed changes are considerably improved from proposals in the previous Review, we need to ensure the scheme remains robust and accessible to innovative Australian businesses of all sizes.

"All levels of the workforce need to be able to operate with emerging new technologies and systems and engage in more complex relationships in environments that are constantly changing. Employees increasingly need higher level skills, analytical skills and the capacity to transfer between functions and processes. Digital skills, enterprise and entrepreneurial skills are all essential to create a workforce with the initiative to take predicted current and future needs and combine them with good ideas that lead to innovation in organisations.

"Robust STEM skills have long been argued by Ai Group as increasingly central to the future workplace. We support the STEM recommendation for action around teacher professional development and the preparation of students for STEM careers. Adding closer industry-education collaboration to that ambition will add value to each of these recommendations. Ai Group is actively pursuing such arrangements as a member of the COAG STEM Partnerships Forum, having previously managed a two-year national project, Strengthening STEM School-Industry Partnerships.

"Ai Group welcomes the focus of the VET system recommendation in the review which is essentially the skills engine-room for Australian industry. In particular, this review must ensure the sector develops people with higher order STEM skills and enterprise skills for the digital economy. The changing needs of employers mean that reform enabling flexible combinations of training, as well as timely availability of new skills development must be stepped up.

"Another important action is the further investigation into the capture of innovation sources through the VET system. This sector is potentially a rich initiator, with industry, of research activity, thereby adding to Australia’s innovation base.

"There is also much to praise beyond the education elements.

"Increasing public and private investment in innovation is essential; and as Ai Group's own research has found, better and more frequent collaboration between businesses and researchers will help us get more from that investment. A boost for export market development and trade missions would be very welcome. Smarter government can deliver improved services with less red tape while also supporting wider innovation. Coordination between the Commonwealth and the States could unlock more of this potential. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are important developments to pursue within a broader and dynamic portfolio of priority sectors and technologies.

"The Government now needs to consider how to implement the ISA’s recommendations.

"While some elements, such as the R&D recommendations will need further design and consultation, others can be adopted immediately, including the proposed overarching commitment to ensure that total government support for science, innovation and research does not fall below its medium-term average of 0.63 per cent of GDP.

"Lifting Australia's innovation performance to 2030 will take sustained attention and investment from all of us, particularly successive national governments. Innovation and Science Australia can play a valuable role in keeping our feet to the fire," Mr Willox said.

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