Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been talking up innovation since taking office in September, but how can those words be translated into policy? John Wayland offers some ideas.

The push of the Turnbull Government into the policy of innovation is to be congratulated and supported. It is early days for policy definition, which we know is still evolving, and accordingly it would be premature to be a critic. So in the spirit of ‘contribution’, there are some issues to be suggested by a team who have embraced this need for change and innovation for over 10 years.

This is not a new economic theory to overcome the Chicago School or Marx’s theories. It is part of ISO 9000 and extolled by the management guru W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s. Constant improvement and adaptation are known to the best manufacturers in the same way Wheaties are an athlete – you have them for breakfast.

In the Hunter Valley, the business organisation Hunternet is the only business association that has the word on its website, and has done so for over eight years. Ten years ago, its then-CEO John Coyle embraced the need to bring about change to manufacturing. There have been innovation awards and conferences where he has invited me to speak.

The need for an emphasis on science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM) has for some time been a clarion call from a number of owner-manufacturers seeking to employ new graduates, yet whenever it has been raised with various ministers it has been ignored. A change in policy is needed if this country is to a broad-based economy and not one dependent on coal and iron ore.

The Treasury’s policy of relying on primary industry has left companies that actually make things a disaster zone. Millions of dollars have indeed gone to the car industry and the sporting industry, but there are questions over the efficiency of this spend.

Every report on innovation and every submission to every Senate Inquiry has pointed out that Australia does not commercialise. The spend for research is over $18bn a year when you add the CSIRO and the R&D grants together, and that doesn’t include the Tech Voucher handed out by State Governments. As measured by the OECD, even New Zealand is better at commercialisation than we Aussies.

Needed: A broad spread of experience on boards                                                                                                   

May I suggest we look at the boards of the CSIRO and other advisory groups? We see that they are all academics with PhDs. It’s a broad generalisation to say that academics are not business people, but the results speak for themselves. A researcher with a PhD is as different to a salesman. There are no business-people on those boards, nor trade union representatives. To some the suggestion that there be a trade union representative may sound heresy, but Paul Bastion’s call for a Manufacturing Finance Corporation (MFC) was an excellent initiative, as is the AMWU publication A Smarter Australia.

Needed: Ground-up collaboration

Collaboration does not need big meetings in Canberra at great cost as recommended by the Smarter Australia recommendations .What is needed is small meetings between academics and factory owners in alternative premises so that each get to know the problems and what the other half are doing.

Needed: Innovatory Government

In New South Wales there is a process under the Premier’s Department for unsolicited tenders. It is little known and not well promoted. I tried to use the process only to find that it too is bogged down in bureaucracy. I suggested a tunnel through the Blue Mountains, as opposed to a road upgrade. I was asked to send in detailed costings, which of course would cost thousands to produce. Later I found that the Department knows all these routes, have the costings, and have them shelved.

In 1981 I offered a solution for federally owned land in Phillip Street. I completed this project in 1987 as one of the first public-private partnerships, but only after surviving a public tender process that I won against the major developers. This process can and does work in other situations and should be extended to the Federal and other State Governments.

Needed: A Prize

In the 1600s, navigators needed to know longitude, so the British Government offered a prize. The Brits have resurrected the Longitude Prize to address the important issues and challenges facing us, such as resistance to antibiotics, or mobility for quadriplegics. This approach focuses the attention, rather than simply giving out prizes to any ideas or products suggested to a panel of experts to assess – as we have now with the News Ltd Innovation Prize .

Australia has different issues. How do we drought-proof the interior? Where do we house Nuclear waste ? But these are broad issues .What manufacturers need is a prize for a solution to an issue on their desk now.

Needed: The Cloud

There has to be better use of online access to what is happening inside the institutions. There is a need to have worldwide exposure to research, as happens with Nine Sigma. It would be good to know what research is currently being undertaken inside the CSIRO and universities and what needs commercialisation.

These are some more ideas to add to what is a good move for Australia.

John Wayland is the founder of i2V (Innovation 2 Value).