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Collaborate or get leap-frogged by other economies, warns innovation chief

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Australia needed to build a genuine “ecosystem” of innovation or it risked seeing its economy “leap-frogged” by countries like Vietnam, one of the Palaszczuk Government’s top bureaucrats has warned.

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Innovation lead and deputy director-general of the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport Sarah Pearson said genuine innovation needed leadership, collaboration and connectivity to thrive.

She told a Committee for Brisbane function today that she found such qualities were lacking locally despite the crucial role they played in nurturing new economies.

“Brisbane may have been well-connected and collaborative a while ago but that I think (has) dropped,” she said.

“Certainly, I didn’t see it during COVID and I thought COVID was actually an opportunity to bring people together because you need to build trust.”

“Where is the leadership in our ecosystem, where is the collaboration, where to you go to get connected?”

Pearson, a former chief innovation officer and chief scientist with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was recruited a year ago into the Government’s ranks after a career in government, corporate boards, venture capital and research.

She said the word “innovation” had become “quite dull” because most people associated it with government.

“I think people have just got a bit sick of it,” she said.

What innovation was really about was new economies, she said.

She said 75 per cent of future high growth jobs need science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) qualifications yet 65 per cent of these jobs did not yet exist.

“So, do we want high value jobs? If we do, we need innovation which is all about combining science, technology engineering and maths with entrepreneurship.”

She said the Advance Queensland program had invested $755 million in new economy ventures over the past five years but its real success had been in also attracting $845 million of investment outside of the Government into such projects.

“That’s incredibly important because this whole piece about building these new economies needs to be collaborative,” she said.

Pearson said the key was building an “ecosystem” that included government, the private sector, consumers, mentors, universities, schools and technical education.

“When I got here a year ago, I saw that everyone thinks (innovation) is about government. This is not how you build new economies.

“You build new economies collaboratively and inclusively. You need to bring everybody into this.”

“You don’t need to be a funky start-up.”

She said the Mayor of Boston had once told here that while the city had MIT and Harvard generating ideas, it was difficult to create business from them because it had no real vocational skills in the population.

“Without vocational education you don’t have guys and gals who can make these things into products and then deliver them globally,” she said.

Pearson said ecosystems of innovation were operating all over the world, not just in Western countries.

“These other countries aren’t waiting for Australia. They are going gangbusters – Vietnam in particular. Their prime minister talks about leap-frogging Australia.”

“We cannot be complacent if we want to be globally competitive.”

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