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‘If we don’t become an innovation-driven economy, we will pay an ever-increasing rent to the world,’ says STA President: Science Meets Parliament 2024

Health Industry Hub | March 21, 2024 |

Medical: In his Science Meets Parliament address yesterday at the National Press Club, Professor Sharath Sriram, President of Science and Technology Australia (STA), delivered a poignant message on the urgent need for Australia to invest deeply in innovation and research to secure its future prosperity.

Professor Sriram invoked the timeless curiosity that drives scientific inquiry, noting the shared spirit of exploration between contemporary scientists and the indigenous peoples of Australia. He acknowledged the rich heritage of knowledge and invention, exemplified by figures like David Unaipon, whose contributions adorn the nation’s currency.

“If we fail to diversify if we don’t become an innovation-driven economy we will be a nation of consumers rather than creators. We will end up paying an ever-increasing rent to the rest of the world,” he asserted.

Professor Sriram highlighted the groundbreaking work being conducted across Australia, from advancements in healthcare to cutting-edge developments in renewable energy and computing. Drawing attention to successes like the pioneering work on solar panels at the University of New South Wales, he lamented the familiar narrative of Australian innovations being commercialised overseas, squandering opportunities for local economic growth and job creation.

“With our rapidly growing and ageing population, we are soon going to need the equivalent of a billion-dollar hospital wing added to our medical system every week. That is not realistic. Technology can help keep us healthier and at home for longer prevention is always better than cure,” he stated.

Highlighting ongoing research at the University of Newcastle on next-generation solar cell technology, Professor Sriram envisioned a future where Australia leads in advanced manufacturing, harnessing the potential of its brightest minds to drive economic diversification and global competitiveness.

Drawing from personal experiences, Professor Sriram recounted missed opportunities in Australia’s tech sector, particularly in micro-chip manufacturing, which has significant implications for emerging fields like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. He emphasised the imperative for strategic investment and cohesive collaboration between academia, industry, and government to nurture a robust innovation ecosystem.

Professor Sriram underscored the urgency of ramping up research and development (R&D) expenditure, citing Australia’s declining investment compared to global counterparts. He underscored the economic benefits of R&D, urging a national commitment to increase spending to 3% of GDP to unlock immense potential for job creation and economic growth.

“Australia’s spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP has been in decline for more than a decade. We now spend just 1.68 per cent of GDP on R&D less than 2 cents in every dollar spent in Australia is on R&D. This is well below the OECD average of 2.7 per cent and a country mile behind the top performers.

“The economic benefits of R&D investment cannot be disputed. For example, very early-stage research, funded by the Australian Research Council, returns $3.32 to the economy for every dollar invested. Research further along the innovation pipeline, supported through the Cooperative Research Centres programs, have higher returns $5.61 for every dollar invested,” he noted.

However, Professor Sriram cautioned against complacency, warning of dire consequences if Australia fails to transition to an innovation-driven economy. He articulated the risks of continued reliance on traditional industries and underscored the imperative for diversification to mitigate environmental challenges and ensure national security.

In a stirring call to action, Professor Sriram urged Australians to recognise the transformative power of innovation and to rally behind bold investment in R&D. He emphasised that this investment is not merely an expense but a strategic imperative to safeguard Australia’s future prosperity and global standing.

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