Australian businesses have unprecedented access to the global economy through our new free trade agreements, and our businesses, universities and research organisations are among the best in the world.
But we are falling behind in areas of commercialisation and collaboration, ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration. Our appetite for risk is lower than in comparable countries, which means Australian start-ups and early-stage businesses often fail to attract capital to grow, and participation in science, maths and computing at high school is declining.
That is why, through our National Innovation and Science Agenda, the government will invest $1.1 billion, focusing on four priority areas: helping businesses embrace risk and encouraging investment in start-ups; encouraging collaboration between businesses, universities and the research sector to commercialise ideas; training students for the jobs of the future; and having government lead by example in the way it uses technology.
At a local level, an organisation in Cairns called theSPACE is embodying much of what we are trying to achieve nationally. Founders Damian Zammit and Troy Haines have positioned Cairns as a start-up and innovation hot-spot.
This weekend, in an Australian first, theSPACE will host an innovation weekend to demystify all the talk about innovation. Over one weekend, business owners will be partnered up with IT professionals, programmers, designers and business development experts, under the guidance of innovation specialists. Teams will work on addressing challenges and developing ideas and opportunities put forward by business owners.
There will be short, entertaining, educational sessions on launching ideas, innovation, the internet of things, IP protection, accounting and more, with mentors on hand to support teams. It is a fantastic opportunity and I would urge anyone who is interested to head to the innovation weekend website for more information.
Talking of local innovators, just this week I spoke to Darren Tonkin, who has launched a tech start-up called Storyboard Social. It is a fabulous concept where, in as little as 30 seconds at the end of your day, the Storyboard app creatively matches your photos and videos with the places you have visited.
Friends and family can follow along with your stories and experience your journey as if they were there with you. Two weeks ago, Storyboard won the Creative3 Pitch, which means Darren will be representing Australia in Denmark at the Creative Business Cup. This is the equivalent of Eurovision in the start-up world.
Darren says: 'With the innovation boom and the push by the government, it is great that companies like Storyboard are starting to get traction.' I certainly wish him all the best and will certainly help Storyboard get exposure wherever I can.
In line with encouraging regional innovation, the coalition government has committed $10 million towards the $50 million Cairns Innovation Centre at James Cook University. The CIC will promote business innovation and help local companies, industry associations, researchers and students share knowledge and develop commercial opportunities under a single roof.
It will operate in collaboration with Advance Cairns, Cairns Regional Council and theSPACE, and with the Tropical North Learning Academy at Smithfield State High School and Trinity Beach State School.
I recently visited Smithfield State High School with our Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham, and caught up with students at the academy. With robotics, drones and 3D creations, school has certainly changed since I was a lad. We heard about the internet of things-an amazing program-and the creativity of the kids was just so impressive.
Recently I also called for applications from people and organisations wanting to become Cairns's new encouraging entrepreneurship and employment facilitator.
I know that Far Northerners have a wealth of innovative ideas and creativity. It is daunting to be confronted by a lack of training, access to finance or business networks, which is the case for many of our young jobseekers.
This is where having a facilitator in Cairns will provide practical support to help local young people develop their ideas into successful businesses. Anyone interested in being a facilitator can take part in a Department of Employment webinar on 21 October 2016.
I welcome both the national and regional focus on innovation, which will go a long way towards driving economic growth and diversity for northern Australia.