Two countries: harnessing our skills


‘I am delighted to have David Thodey (Chairman of CSIRO among many other things) as a guest blogger this week, commenting on Australian and New Zealand cooperation in the area of innovation. David has trans-Tasman bloodlines and is utterly committed to the innovation agenda in our two countries’

– Peter Woolcott, Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand both have proud histories of world-class innovation. While we develop great ideas and inventions, neither of us do commercialisation very well. Too often, our IP and talent is lured offshore and we don’t build our capabilities locally.

How many Australians realise that we enabled the development and growth of WiFi?

How many Kiwis remember Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics?

This shared history has been characterised by inconsistent policy approaches taken by successive governments to encourage innovation.

Our companies have not invested sufficiently in R&D.

Our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related skills have not kept pace with the growing imperative of the technology revolution, now called the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

Cushioned by natural resources and a benign geo-political environment, we do not have a risk-taking corporate culture.

However, this is starting to change very quickly.

The New Zealand Government took an early lead from Australia with its focus on innovation and driving economic reform around commercialising government agencies, crowd-funding and other initiatives.

Now, under Prime Minister Turnbull, Australia is ramping up its support for the ‘Ideas Boom’ – there is palpable energy in the country around innovation, start-ups and venture capital – there is a new energy and commitment to supporting research, collaboration, funding and skill.

At the most recent Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), it was decided to ‘investigate opportunities to bring together various sectors of the trans-Tasman business community to address sectoral challenges and opportunities to improve global connectedness. Through this process, we hope to identify potential areas of reform, and will work with your Ministers and officials to advance the shared regulatory agenda.’

The ANZLF sector groups are: Health Technology, Tourism, Innovation, Infrastructure and Agribusiness.

The Innovation Working Group held its inaugural meeting in Auckland on 4 April.

The Group is seeking to establish whether and how Australia and NZ can encourage more innovation in our economies through trans-Tasman collaboration. In doing so, some key questions and considerations are:

  • Defining our topic: we take a broad view of innovation comprising ideas generation and commercialisation (not just R&D). Not all innovation is technology-driven although technology is an important enabler.
  • We should focus on specific initiatives.  What are the real issues that need a solution
  • Identify where private sector can lead in hunt for solutions: B2B, B2G and G2G approaches
  • Develop a vision of the future Australian and NZ innovation eco-system, and develop a set of practical initiatives to help deliver that vision
  • What are the real issues that need a solution?
  • What are some bold actions that will really move the needle on innovation in NZ and  Australia?
  • Are there some quick wins?

We are starting to work through these issues and, over coming months, will develop ideas and proposals for both government and business to consider. I am also pleased that the Trans -Tasman Business Circle, the key business organisation across both countries has also launched its Innovation Circle as a platform to promote ongoing discussion and development of relationships across all sectors of the ideas eco-system.

I am an Australian-born, New Zealand-raised trans-Tasman citizen. I am committed and encouraged about the prospects for our countries to grow our economies together.

David Thodey is the Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO

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