18 thoughts on “Innovation: the test is yet to come

  1. Agree with it generally, except on the issue of cuts being “reversed”. In more detail, I think the cuts which CSIRO and some other institutions were forced to carry haven’t been reversed; under PM Malcolm Turnbull they might receive a funding boost, but in terms of dollar amount and the new strings attached, it is more accurate to say they have received funding to undertake some substantially different research from where the original funding cuts went the deepest.

    And as far as the people who were sacked in consequence of all these cuts, it’s not real likely that their circumstances, now, will be “reversed”.

    The big trouble with the quite capricious see-saw funding under the LNP is it de-stabilises research programs, and it only adds to the discouragement for experts to remain in the sector. The irony is that the public service is blamed (by the LNP) for supposed inefficiencies in its delivery of services, yet one of the big recent sources of inefficiency is in the involuntary loss of jobs and human expertise, followed up with belated attempts to undo the damage—compounding the entirely self-inflicted inefficiencies. Thing is, those (ex-)staff who were burned by the Abbott purge have probably moved on by now, whether to overseas institutions, or different areas of employment, or early retirement. What an expensive and ludicrous waste of everybody’s time this was.

  2. Turnbull’s wrecking of what the NBN could have been should mark him down as the non-innovation PM. How someone who made his name as an Internet trailblazer can so comprehensively destroy something is quite amazing. Frankly, it should also demolish for all time any notion that the LNP are better managers than the Labor party.

    Turnbull’s innovation vision seems to be about wantint to create more Atlassian’s without the realisation that there were some very specific circumstances that lead to their success.

    As others have said, if you want to foster innovation, Australia has for decades had a place that does just that – CSIRO – but those visionaries in the LNP chose to gut it.

  3. @bjb
    “Turnbull’s wrecking of what the NBN could have been should mark him down as the non-innovation PM.”

    You have hit the nail on the head. Nothing more needs to be said.

  4. Turnbull isn’t offering anything new. It’s the same old neoliberal program in slightly new window-dressing.I particularly liked what Donald wrote: a perfect summation of the accumulated stupidity of the neoliberal wreckers.

  5. Our anti-science ex-pm was seen buying a 2nd hand refrigerator recently. Should someone tell him there’s science hiding inside to make the food cold? Does he think the food stays cool because of a papal edict?

  6. Yes, Ikonoclast. My very superficial read of the innovation programme suggests that this is yet another LNP handout to big business. The word “innovation” suggestively starts with “I” as all innovation is done by “i”ndividuals. Yes, it is regular people who are the hub of all creativity.

    It is a sad admission to have to make that Abbott was on the right track with his support for small business. Hence not surprising that the “wealthy due to speculation in big business” Malcolm Turnbull would snap back to believing that big business will build future productivity faster than small business. And yet it is big business that exports production in greater chunks and sooner than small business does, as it has the commercial power to do so. The real issue for politicians, though, is that Big Business is cleaner to deal with and provides memorably lavish lunches, while small business is messy and provides only snacks.

    Turnbull’s failure list is stacking up.

    * NBN down grade while at the same time talking up digital economy.
    * Attempt to bully through a GST increase and quash any suggestion to (self interest) return upper income tax levels to where they where before Howard reduced them.
    * Innovation handouts for big business.
    * Despite publicly appearing to be supportive of climate action, Tunbull maintains the LNP creative accounting approach to carbon emission targets, supports the con of Abbott’s direct action, and continues to subsidise fossil fuel.
    * And then there are the people dying a slow death on Nauru.

    …..and it is not even six months since becoming PM.

  7. @bjb (and @BilB)

    Yeah. I can’t seem to find any useful references for either of Turnbull’s great achievements: Whitlam Turnbull & Co (the main “Co” being ‘Nifty Nev’) and Ozemail. So I can’t establish just how much of the succe3ss of either were actually due to Turnbull and how much to others.

    But it is apparent that Turnbull really made his money by the gift of the gab (not bad for a man who was a practicing lawyer for only a couple of years): talking up Whitlam Turnbull and later Ozemail to be able to flog them for big profits.

    Well, I suppose that’s some kind of an improvement because in Oz we normally flog our innovative achievements for next to nothing and then end up paying for the product when somebody else makes it and sells it to us for profit. We’re really very good at that.

    Though we did do ok for a while with the rotary hoe (see below). And the Americans (Bell Laboratories) showed extreme American exceptionalism by letting the transistor slip to Sony which put all our finest efforts (eg stump jump plough, rust proof wheat, refrigeration, ultra fine fleece merino sheep and, of course Csiroset and aeroplane black boxes) into the shade.

    But just for an example of Aussie innovation, try this one:
    The Self-Propelled Rotary Hoe – In 1912 Cliff Howard of Gilgandra invented a machine with rotating hoe blades on an axle that simultaneously hoed the ground and pulled the machine forward. You can now find rotary hoes in back yards and small farms throughout the world and for many years the manufacture and export of the Rotovator hoe helped spread this invention across the globe. Cliff was aged 16 when he invented his rotary hoe.

    Do you think well ever do something that good ever again ? With or without Turnbull ?

  8. @BilB

    Yes, it is interesting to consider that a sizable chunk of small businesses are actually family collectives owned, worked and managed by family members. But don’t tell the neoliberals that many small businesses are actually worker collectives. “Collective” is a dirty word. “Corporation” is a clean word just as clean as… as… as “Clean Coal”!

  9. I am concerned that when it comes to climate and low emissions energy the ‘need’ for innovation can be a roundabout way of refusing to commit to the solutions that already exist or are in the pipeline.

    Can Turnbull turn the LNP bull on climate? Is he really going to try? The expectation may be that climate science denial’s collapse is inevitable and a bit of waiting could turn them, and strong international support for a Paris agreement might push policy that direction a way without risking the balance of support by pushing too hard. But the LNP has a lot of political investment in obstructing climate action and their obstructionism already operates within an official policy line of accepting climate science – it can go a lot longer covertly, and as the Abbott experience has demonstrated, it can be more effectively, with less media scrutiny when done under such an umbrella.

    Malcom Turnbull is the only LNP politician that I’ve personally heard speak of climate change with any sense of conviction – but I’m not a close watcher. Are there any others, especially high profile ones that clearly accept the climate problem as serious? Rather than in the Tony Abbott sense of people making a big fuss about climate change being a ‘climate’ problem.

  10. Of course the ‘need for innovation’ as an excuse for failure to commit to a transition away from fossil fuels is a key message from LNP favorite Bjorn Lomborg.

    I do support a transition to an innovative economy – I think it’s vital we support it – and it may be that there will be something good out of Turnbull’s policy, if only for mitigating somewhat against previous reductions in support. I do suspect it will tend to be aimed where it’s politically expedient rather than best for supporting innovation.

  11. That’s a good article John Quiggin, education and innovation are linked, and innovation is one of the things that ties education and research to outcomes for business or health or agriculture Etc.

    It would be sensible for Christopher Pyne to work with the Minister for Education on innovation and education linkages, since they used to work together when he was the Minister for Education.

    Policy aside, I think one of the nice things of the Innovation policy is how pleased Christopher Pyne is.

    There was an article in The Age with Christopher Pyne saying he was conservative and not an economic rationalist, which meant he sees a role for government spending. And then after being part of the policy to defund the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) which was tied to higher education fee deregulation, he said on Sky News he was a fixer for getting 2 years of funding, and now after securing funding for a decade he says “I really did fix it”.

    There’s another interesting article on the innovation policy in The Saturday Paper, looking more at the influence of Lucy Turnbull and burgeoning relationships between Australia and Germany, https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/economy/2015/12/12/lucy-turnbulls-innovation-push/14498388002739

  12. ZM :
    …. which meant he sees a role for government spending.

    … in South Australia in particular, to ensure his continued succour at the public purse.

  13. The past 30 years have been the neoliberal echo chamber of more competition, less red tape, let the market decide. While there is something to be said for competition, there is positive competition, say when several companies go head to head on their versions of a new concept, and eventually the best ones thrive; then there is negative competition, where a giant corporation stomps on any would-be competitor, the stomping being done by any means fair or foul, and generally being of a biggest bully in the playground variety. We certainly need less of the latter kind of competition.

    It would be good if the next 30 years could point the spotlight at the obverse of competition, i.e. collaboration. These days, being able to work effectively with people from all walks of life is part and parcel of being successful in the large, as well as on the smaller scale. It’s a more interesting world when there are small (quirky?) businesses around, thriving at what they do best, and benefitting from the other, like-minded businesses in a virtuous circle of collaborative mind-set, rather than the capricious negative competition mind-set.

    Sometimes the government can be an enabler, on a large scale, of collaborative endeavours. The NBN was once an illustration of the potential for providing something we all could benefit by; perhaps it will all work out, but I can’t help thinking of the lost opportunity to have a truly impressive national network which we all could have benefitted from having, a lost opportunity that has squandered the most important resource for any business seeking to make its mark, namely time. Look at the networks that leading countries have, and the difference is stark. People love to argue the line of what would we fill it with, but if there is one thing the past decade has demonstrated, it is just how rapidly our bandwidth requirements increase. If we seek innovation as panacea, then we better be in the same ballpark as our rivals when it comes to communication infrastructure and technological manufacturing capability.

    The difficulty which I see at the moment is that we are schizophrenic on what innovation means: we see it as boffins in white coats concocting some new gizmo; or, we see it as boffins-in-ill-fitting-suits being the work horses for investors-in-bespoke-suits, the innovation in question merely being of a direct and superficial nature, say a slight improvement in viscosity properties of an oil, or something equally pedestrian, important as it may be for a particular company.

    In either of the above views of innovation, scientific work is simply subservient to the “true value”, which resides in the corporate enterprise. The company is either the manufacturer of the gizmo, passing back a royalty trickle to the employer of the boffins; or, it is exploiting a single point of innovation within a larger project/product development stage, in which case the boffins are usually silenced by commercial-in-confidence contracts, and their employer uses them as contract for hire staff, little more.

    The trouble with the boffin-for-hire model is that it is using the boffin—i.e. scientist—in a manner which is a very inefficient use of a scientist’s talents. Scientists work at doing science, which at its heart is all about discovery and inquiry into the how and why of things: that is what they excel at doing, because that is what they have, in a sense, practised doing for their entire lives. If they weren’t any good at it, they wouldn’t become scientists, basically. So, a person with that particular knack is probably best at work when they are in the working environment most appropriate for them; that is almost certainly not in a suit embedded in a production development cycle of a big corporation. There will always be some who can excel at both, but the vast majority of scientists are wasted if they are using their time dealing with the details of a business, rather than the details of a scientific puzzle. Horses for courses, and all that.

    My concern now is that this Innovation project will focus so narrowly upon exploiting science/scientists, it will subsume what is often referred to as the blue sky science. Blue sky science is the place where the boldest questions are asked, and with tenacious endeavour are answered in whole or in part; if we seek innovation, surely this is the place where a lot of the big stuff happens.

    My two, maybe ten, cents worth.

  14. Good piece as I would expect! Policy says nothing about work environment which encourages innovation: diversity of views, challenge to views & debate, tolerance of failure, patient capital in tisky environment. It is only partially correct to say education starts at school: it starts before then in family environment. More importantly learning starts at birth if not before. Support for early childhood is vital!

  15. Innovation is a loaded term. Innovation of what? For what? For whom? If we were able to be really innovative that would mean being able to question and even to change the workings of our whole human system.

    Oh, no, we didn’t mean that! You can’t this change this thing we call ‘society’, ‘capitalist’, ‘investment’, the economy, politics, the ‘international race’ et al, etc, blah, blue, bleh,

    When we said we wanted ‘innovation’, we meant computers with slightly faster memory, smartphone apps calculating time for your next poo by voice analysis, clever new networky-gadgety things to sell to corporations and any Americans who want to spy on us, and sheep genetically-engineered to have all the gifts of middle men: taxidrivers, bank managers, payments handlers, accounts departments, human resources, retailing, advertising and PR, and Home and Away acting, thus saving from the bother of making any of our own decisions.

    We want ‘innovation’ that makes everything work exactly as it did before, except faster, cheaper, with self-shearing sheep and so making it seem even less like we were trying to make sure nothing changes and works all the way it did before. And if you could do it by next Tuesday, we’d consider making you the new champion of society for at least a week, before forgetting that as next week’s ooh-aah hits.

    fundamental workings and understanding of the human system called ‘society’.

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