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Australia ‘must innovate’

AUSTRALIA needs to embrace innovation or risk becoming a branch economy, says Innovation Summit Implementation Group chairman David Miles.

The group was formed by the Federal Government to investigate ways to implement the report created by the National Innovation Summit.

Australia’s research and development spend in 1998-99 was $8.8 billion, about one thirtieth of the US investment in R&D.

The $8.8 billion is only 16.5 per cent more than IBM spent on R&D.

Mr Miles, an eastern states partner of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, was asked to chair the group.

“When I was growing up, my parents’ aspirations were that I would finish up better off than they were,” Mr Miles told a recent Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

“How many of us can still hold that dream?”

Mr Miles said innovation was neglected across government and industry.

“When Australia returned from the Montreal Olympics without a medal there was a huge outcry. That led to the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport. When our cricket team was in the doldrums, we created the academy and scholarships,” he said.

“Why is it we can’t get the same focus for the future of our industry and our country?”

Mr Miles said the innovation summit identified three key areas for Australia’s future – culture, generating ideas and acting on ideas.

He said Australia had to develop a culture of innovation.

“We’ve concentrated more on looking after older Australians and are forgetting about the younger ones,” Mr Miles said.

“A survey found 52 per cent of maths and science teachers did not like their job and wished they were doing something else. We need to make teaching a career again.

“I believe the Australian psyche can be changed. We don’t smoke as much as we used to, we don’t drink drive as much as we used to and very few of us get into cars without putting a seatbelt on.”

Mr Miles said ideas had to be generated if Australia was to become a “nation of employers rather than employees”.

In 1996 the Federal Government reduced the research and development tax concession from 150 per cent to 125 per cent.

While this hurt some R&D industries, Mr Miles said raising the concession back to 150 per cent would not solve the whole problem.

It does not help companies yet to profit from their R&D.

“We recommended a cash-out option for those companies,” Mr Miles said.

He also wants more funding for the Australian Research Council which “knocks back as many good ideas as it funds”.

Australia needed to capture its intellectual property, to act on the ideas it generated.

“In the academic community there is too much of a rush to publish. There doesn’t seem to be an understanding of the potential commercial applications of an idea,” he said.

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