Media

Australia lagging in innovation

Vince Chadwick
January 19, 2012
The Age

WHEN it comes to innovation, Australia seems to have an image problem.

That’s the assessment from studies released by Thomas Edison’s old company, General Electric.

The GE Global Innovation Barometer ranked Australia’s status as an innovation leader 16th out of 30 countries. Only 2 per cent of 2800 senior executives surveyed worldwide mentioned Australia as an innovation champion.

However, 18 per cent of Australian business leaders nominated their own country.

”There’s a disconnect between local reality and international perceptions,” said GE’s Australian vice-president for strategy and growth, Michael Ackland.

He cited the 86 per cent of local executives who agreed that innovation was the main lever for a more competitive economy, though 92 per cent did so globally.

Another study commissioned by GE from the Milken Institute, an independent researcher, found Australia led the world in five of seven innovation indicators such as university-industry collaboration and research and development spending.

According to the Innovation Barometer, however, only 28 per cent of Australian executives said research and development corresponded to their personal definition of innovation. Globally the figure was 41 per cent.

Before 2008 the Milken study found business was the main driver of research spending in Australia.

”With our spending at 2.2 per cent of GDP, Australia still comes in below the OECD average, but it is rapidly closing the gap,” the study said.

Thirty-one per cent of Australian executives felt the innovation environment had worsened in the past five years, while 66 per cent said government support for innovation was not efficiently organised.

This was despite the federal government’s 2009 white paper Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century.

The dean of UTS Business School, Professor Roy Green, said the government’s research and development rebate was having some effect, but he said the commodity boom was breeding complacency.
”I’m not surprised if the perception is we are well down the ladder,” he said. ”Behind the massive returns from our terms of trade, we are witnessing the structural deterioration of our economy.”

Professor Green said that Australia’s ”high-cost, high-dollar environment” underscored the importance of emulating countries such as Sweden, which produced high-quality products.
”If we’re going to compete on cost, then we’re finished,” he said. ”We must move up the value chain and plug into global supply and global markets.”

The US took out top spot in the Global Innovation Barometer ranking, with 65 per cent.

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