Innovation in the Asian Century

The release of the Asian Century White Paper gives us pause to look at how we are engaging in the innovation field with Asia.

The White Paper itself doesn’t offer any great surprises in terms of what it says about innovation, but nor would anyone expect that it should.  Here is an edited version (my comments in italics):

  • Australia will have an innovation system, in the top 10 globally, that supports excellence…  …and global partnerships. (I don’t think we’ve seen the “top 10” target set before?)
  • We’ll achieve it through the following pathways:
    • Through the Industry and Innovation Statement (Minister Combet is due to make this statement soon. He has been commenting on the need for industry and academia to work better together)
    • Through the National Research Investment Plan (This is with the Government now, having undergone a consultation period – it articulates the “fabric” of the innovation systems and initially makes no great changes. But it should guide future schemes and infrastructure spending and is likely to be an important document).
    • Improve financing options for Australia’s innovation system to make it easier to attract private investment, encourage entrepreneurship, build on government investment in science and technology and commercialise our ideas (Perhaps we are going to hear more on the “Science meets Super” front? Entrepreneurs in Australia are definitely disadvantaged – why back inherently risky stuff when fixed interest is still more than double most of the world and you can negatively gear property?)
    • Support collaboration across business, the research sector and governments to build scale and capability that encourages innovation, allowing Australia to make the most of emerging opportunities in the Asian region. (Two words: Long term. Every expert tells us it takes time in Asia, so let’s make sure we match innovation horizons to cultural horizons.)
    • Support Australian researchers to broaden and strengthen their partnerships with the region as Asia grows as a global science and innovation hub. (China has already grown to be our second largest partner in scientific publications. We must have massive linkages we can capitalise on through the thousands of Asian graduates of Australian Universities?)

It’s an exciting time. My own experience in Asian is limited to the opening of the Singapore market to Australian pork in 1999. But it illustrates the possibilities when researchers, marketers and industry work together.

The “natural” links of (then) Singapore Department of Primary Industries veterinarians trained in Australia led us to develop export protocols to that market. At the time, most of the industry thought we were wasting our time (and their levy funds). But the appearance of Nipah virus, initially thought to be an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, in Malaysia in 1998 changed things dramatically.  Australia suddenly gained a big new market, which it has largely retained. The existence of the export protocols meant that chilled pork flown to Singapore, which was a new product to their market, could become established and for a short period it gained almost 100% market share. A dozen years later, it still apparently has about two thirds of the market and the Australian industry has exported over a billion dollars worth of product in that period – from a baseline of zero that’s a pretty good return.

The Asian Century White Paper announcement is here.