Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) CEO, Dr Larry Marshall, outlines the disruptive forces that are reshaping Australia.

 Much has been written on the disruptive forces of digitisation and automation that are reshaping Australia.

In many ways, we have been here before. History is strewn with examples of revolutionary change – technological, ideological, economic. But through every invention, every revolution, every major economic shift, science has underpinned the industries that emerged from the turmoil.

So while there is much talk of technology destroying jobs, it is worth remembering one simple truth – that science creates new industries, and industries create jobs.

As your national science organisation, it is CSIRO’s role to ensure those industries and jobs are created and developed in Australia.

And our role has never been more vital. As we’ve become more connected, our reliance on Aussie ingenuity has waned. The most recent Australian Innovation System report showed this most starkly through examination of two kinds of “innovation”.

There’s “new to market” innovation, when a business invests in their own novel products. Only 5.5 per cent of Australian businesses were doing this. Then there’s “new to business” innovation, which describes a business adopting someone else’s idea. A more significant 19 per cent of Australian businesses reported this was their interpretation of innovation.

Clearly, we are more prepared to back someone else’s ideas, than our own.

Often we look to overseas models when proposing solutions to our innovation challenges. But we have our own strengths and our own opportunities – and our deep science capability will underpin the next wave of transformation.

So we have made three fundamental changes to CSIRO to ensure that happens.

Firstly, we are working at greater speed, with two programs created under the National Innovation and Science Agenda that accelerate the process of taking science from the lab bench and putting it into the hands of those who can use it to best effect.

Our national science accelerator, ON, takes benchtop breakthroughs to pilots and prototypes, ready for investment and growth. We have also created Main Sequence Ventures, to manage the CSIRO Innovation Fund and support new spin-out and start-up companies from Australia’s publicly-funded research sector. 
Second, we have reinvented our industry partnerships. In the past, we’ve unleashed our science on the world as undeveloped ideas, like a raw material dug from the ground. It’s time to shift our focus to generating our own high value products from those materials.

And third, we are opening up our imaginations and allowing ourselves to think bigger. Under our Strategy 2020 we’re committed to increasing the funding dedicated to science that will reinvent and create new industries for Australia’s future.

In the past year we’ve brought in 60 new researchers to work across six Future Science Platforms, each closely aligned with the “next leap forward” in major Australian industries.

And we have just announced two more. The first is to intensify and broaden our research into hydrogen as a new renewable fuel. We have also created a group focused on the emerging field of precision health.

As all our traditional industries face significant disruption, we must not allow other countries to seize the opportunities we have at our fingertips.

About the Author:

Physicist Larry Marshall became chief executive of Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, in January 2015. He was born in Sydney and received both his undergraduate and postgraduate education, including a PhD in physics, at Macquarie University.

Following his PhD work, Marshall went to the United States where he spent time at Stanford University, and founded six startups over 26 years. He is the inventor of some 20 US patents.

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