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Monday, 24 May 2010 11:13

CeBIT opens with Gonski innovation plea


David Gonski, chairman of Investec and also the chairman of the National e-Health Transition Authority, gave the keynote at this morning's opening of CeBIT in Sydney, with an impassioned plea for the nation to lift its game in terms of innovation.

CeBIT Australia 2010, which has brought together 500 companies to showcase their wares, and organisers hoping they can attract more than 35,000 attendees, was officially opened by NSW premier Kristina Keneally. While the focus of the exhibition is innovation in ICT and the way that is leveraged by business and government, Gonski lamented Australia's relatively poor international innovation ranking.

He called for continued investment in infrastructure in Australia - particularly in the area of the national broadband network and an e-health network. Although the Opposition has in recent days pledged to dismantle these and the Digital Education Revolution investment of the Rudd Government, Gonski said that 'In my role as the chair of NEHTA I am acutely aware of the NBN and what an e-heath strategy could achieve.'

Completion of the NBN was essential to underpin future innovation according to Gonski.

Quoting statistics which showed that Australia invested below the OECD average on R&D, Gonski noted that it would take a further $2.5 billion spending a year for Australia just to reach the OECD average R&D spend of 2.26 per cent of GDP.

Part of the problem was that big companies were not pulling their weight. Gonski noted that the big Australian, BHP Billiton only ranked 341st on a list of the top 2000 innovative companies in the world. Australia had just eight companies on that list Gonski noted.

While acknowledging that in the past Australians might have had a 'she'll be right mate' attitude, Gonski said that this was no longer the case.

He identified six key issues that Australia needed to tackle to become more innovative.  One of these was the area of continued innovation spend for the NBN and e-health.

Gonski also identified the need for improved school level education which taught children to think, rather than just be filled with content during their school years. 'Good educationalists talk about a need to teach our children to think, but if you look at the various syllabuses it's not there.

'Once science teacher told me that science syllabuses today are more like science journalism rather than scientific adventure', he said.  Gonski added that he hoped the new national curricula now being developed by ACARA would help overcome this problem.

He also called for continued investment by Government and private sector in the tertiary education sector.

Other problems were the sectoral silos which persisted in Australia with executives tending to pick a profession, and then stick with an industrial sector through their working lives. 'One of the things that I love about America is that these silos are not as distinct as they are in Australia. We need to break down these barriers...we can bring the best from one sector to another.'

He also condemned the relatively short term view that both industry and government took when it came to innovation, sheeting home some of the blame to the focus by investment fund managers on rapid rather than long term returns. Governments and the electorate also needed to extend their horizons, with Governments being judged less on end results than on progress reports.

Finally Gonski said that Australians needed to embrace scientists as heroes in much the same way as they worshipped artists or sportspeople.


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