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Q and A with Daniel Seal - Innovfest Unbound, Singapore

28 June 2019

Daniel Seal

Subject: Innovation and the Australian economy


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed at Innovfest Unbound in Singapore by Daniel Seal.

Daniel Seal: So, Minister, you mentioned before, how important do you think innovation is for a country as a whole?

Karen Andrews: Look, innovation is what's going to drive the Australian economy for many years into the future. What we as the government are planning to do is to make sure that we normalise innovation. We make it a part of our everyday language. We want to include everyone in the innovation agenda. Now, clearly innovation has a number of paths to it. You've got your start up sector which are very key. They provide many opportunities for the future but our existing businesses are innovating just as individuals are, every single day. So we're very focused on capturing that part of the innovation story and giving our emerging and existing businesses the opportunity to innovate.

Daniel Seal: So looking at Australia as a whole. How would you share [indistinct] summarising the economy of like the whole- if I say share with us in one minute Australia's economy?

Karen Andrews: So we had unprecedented economic growth in Australia: 27 years straight of economic growth. That puts us in a good place for the future. What we're focusing on is looking at what are the key parts of our economy, how we're going to drive that because we want 28, 29, 30, 50 years of economic growth. Innovation is a key part of that. Digital Economy is a very key part of that future for us.

Daniel Seal: You know when you think about Australia; we think of the large branches the large area. Obviously the agricultural is a big part. Are you saying that innovation is changing across all these verticals as just [indistinct]

Karen Andrews: Absolutely. So, agriculture is a key part of our economy and interestingly about 25 per cent of our manufacturing sector is food, food related. So our agriculture and food are key part of our economy. But what we need to do is make sure that our farmers our primary producers are looking at ways to innovate. We want to maximise cropping. We want them to maximise the outputs. You want to make sure they our sheep/cattle industries are going to be part of the future. And to do that we need to provide and equip our farmers with the tools that they need. Many of our properties are very, very large. Hundreds and thousands of kilometres is the reach of those. So just for our farmers to be able to remotely monitor what's happening with water supply, where they need to make changes where the feed stock is declining. That's the sort of information that's going to be invaluable to our farmers. And it’s another reason why we have- I’ve gone over a minute sorry

Daniel Seal: No you can do two minutes it's fine. But would ask you about barbecuing next so carry on…

Karen Andrews: So we’ve as a government injected well over $300 million into developing the space sector in Australia which has two parts. Clearly launch and nano-satellites is an area that we already have expertise, but global positioning is an opportunity for us. Australia is a fairly vast land with a relatively small population for the size of the country. We have many remote areas; global positioning is very important to us.

Daniel Seal: And that’s interesting because you mentioned just now. Obviously you're responsible for Science and Industry. How do you see those working together?

Karen Andrews: Okay so there's three parts to the portfolio that I manage: industry and science and technology is a part of that, which includes all of the innovation in it. We see innovation and science as key drivers of industry. For industry to succeed it needs to work very closely with science and with technology. What we are really focused on is building connections between science, our researchers and industry. Now, our large businesses have done that for many years. We as the government are keen to encourage them to expand their research and development, but we're very keen to look at small and medium enterprises. So, small businesses in Australia are collectively a major employer. So, if we're going to grow the economy, improve productivity and create jobs then we need to work with our small businesses. It's very difficult to engage small businesses with researchers. Small businesses are very time poor. They're very resource poor and that includes financial resources in some respects. And they don't have the opportunity to understand what investing in research and engaging with researchers can deliver for them. So that's a key part of us growing our economy.

Daniel Seal: I think that's very- act across all sectors if you, you see here obviously in Singapore where you got the government, universities and start-ups and that whole bridge. And I think one of the questions I wanted to ask is there in the way of a comeback to it is. I know you're very, very passionate about women getting involved and studying and those things. Can you maybe share some of your thoughts on this and kind of some of the initiatives that are happening along those lines?

Karen Andrews: In STEM?

Daniel Seal: Yeah.

Karen Andrews: In STEM. So science technology engineering and math is something that is so important to our economy. So, we have invested significant amounts of money over a long period of time to grow our STEM capability. And, particularly to focus on women in STEM. Now in my view the reason that we have to engage more women in STEM is because if we don't then approximately 50 percent of the population remains untapped as a source of- for future employment, for skills and building our economy. So that's why we have to tap in and make sure that women understand the opportunities that are available, if they study science and maths particularly at school and then go on to careers in science technology engineering and maths. And what I would say is that many people are very comfortable that if they study perhaps for a law degree then they might not work as a lawyer when they finish their study but they could use their law degree in many, many roles. What I want to make sure of is that people understand that if you study science, or if you study engineering, then you also have multiple opportunities for very fulfilling work. That's not necessarily in the specific area that you’ve studied in. But I for example- so I'm a mechanical engineer and I use the things that I've learned at university and through my working time as an engineer every single day now. So, we've got some stats: 75 per cent of the jobs of the future will require STEM skills and importantly – and I think this is a really important differentiation – 90 per cent of the future jobs will require digital skills.

Daniel Seal: Could you talk more about that? Because obviously digital skill is something important and obviously, looking at this, starting from right, young age. Now, you see that we got to invest more in the younger generations from schools [indistinct].

Karen Andrews: So, I'm very focused on developing the pipeline and moving from it being purely focused on STEM, but increasing that to digital. What we have to be really conscious of is the language that we use, because young people at school- gosh, I don't know how old kids are now when they get their first mobile phone, but I suspect it's very, very young now. So, they already have access and an understanding to technology. So what we need to do is capture that and steer that in the directions where the jobs of the future are going to be. So get them to understand what digital is all about in a way that's not threatening to them or to their parents. I mean, many of the kids at school would be very keen to follow IT pathways if they understood it, in a way that's familiar to them.

Daniel Seal: Looking at Australia, as you mentioned before, I [indistinct] the wide vastness in the area. Is there any areas where you're seeing the specific regions that you want to develop more as like an innovation cluster or are you seeing it across the whole country? But I think [indistinct] Australia is the size of a continent rather than a small country.

Karen Andrews: Yes. So we have mapped innovation in Australia and as you would expect, it is very much centred around our capital cities. Sydney and Melbourne are key hubs of innovation. And you would expect that we are a large country, but we are quite urbanised. So you would expect that. But interestingly, there's quite an extensive cluster in South East Queensland. So from the Sunshine Coast through to the New South Wales border in Queensland has got quite a lot of activity with innovations, with start-ups. So, we'll be driving that. But we also want to make it, as I've said, a normal part of everyday language and encourage everyone to be part of that innovation agenda.

Daniel Seal: What's your favourite city in Australia?

Karen Andrews: The Gold Coast. Actually, I should ask: who's been to the Gold Coast?
Who would like to go to the Gold Coast?

Daniel Seal: [Indistinct] free invitation to come to the Gold Coast. And there are sports team – Aussies love cricket, football, rugby.

Karen Andrews: Well, I’m a bit of AFL fan or a rugby league fan. Of course, the Titans from rugby league are in my hometown. But for those who follow rugby league, I grew up in Townsville so I'm a personal fan of Johnathan Thurston, and the AFL teams – Suns on the Gold Coast, other than that, Carlton.

Daniel Seal: Should we ask, does anyone actually the rules of rugby league if you’re not Australian? Who here knows? We’ve got one hand up, great. We’re not going to test you on the spot.
Australia, the land down under as we know, the very old thing, how important to you is like partnerships and collaboration with companies looking to come to Australia, set up here, et cetera?

Karen Andrews: Look, it's beyond important. It's critical for our future growth. Geographically, we are isolated and we need to reach out and develop future markets if we are going to reach our full potential. So, certainly, we want to make sure that we are providing opportunities for our own people in Australia, but to do that, we are looking at export opportunities. So, Australia has engaged extensively with Singapore and will continue to do that, and there are huge opportunities for us to partner with Singapore food, food security, hydrogen and of course, the digital economy.

Daniel Seal: Yeah. That's what I wanted to talk further. Obviously, I think Australia is very well positioned. Obviously, its connection with Asia, who would you say- obviously, Singapore has an important partner and others. I know you’ve got other key country partners originally. Who would say- obviously, New Zealand. Do you see there’s collaborations across?

Karen Andrews: Well, we do collaborate a lot with New Zealand. We work very closely with New Zealand. But, our Pacific neighbours are extremely important to us and it’s good to say that there's so many representatives here today from the Pacific Islands. So, we'll be working very closely in the Pacific region. But [indistinct] Southern Asia, in particular, there are some opportunities for us and it's a two-way street. This needs to be a partnership. This is just not Australia looking for opportunity. It's where we also believe we can add value to our neighbours. So, we'll be working closely with Japan. I've just come back from G20 Digital Economy Ministers Meeting in Japan. There are opportunities for us. And of course, the United States and the UK.

Daniel Seal: You’re a fan of the UK, then?

Karen Andrews: Look, we don’t limit ourselves.

Daniel Seal: [Indistinct]. If was to say- obviously, we've got a couple of minutes left. What would you say if we like fast forward to the next two, three years we’d be seeing developed in Australia with innovation? What’s like the vision of the next few years?

Karen Andrews: So, the next few years in Australia are going to be one of significant transformation as we focus on the areas where we've had traditional strengths and provide opportunities for us. Space is one of the most important sectors that we're going to be looking to develop with our plans to increase that, to triple in size, by 2030…

Daniel Seal: … Wow.

Karen Andrews: …So we’re already underway, having announced and started the Australian Space Agency. Space will be important, as will agriculture and the mining and resources sector, and you will see a lot of technology being used to maximise productivity. So it's a very high efficiency, productivity and job growth that you will see out of Australia over the next two to three years.

Daniel Seal: Great. So is either one of the audiences is wanting to enter those sectors, they should come with you. Ladies and gentlemen, please, can you give a round of applause to Minister Andrews, and thank you for this day.

Karen Andrews: Thank you