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What if CSIRO was ‘let off the leash’? – by John Sheridan

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Yesterday @AuManufacturing asked what next after Industry Growth Centres? Here John Sheridan looks at the national science organisation and asks, what if CSIRO were ‘let off the leash’?

CSIRO is the Australian organisation responsible for scientific research in this country.

The organisation was created in the early 20th century, to conduct scientific research to assist in the development of the primary and secondary industries of Australia, farming, mining and manufacturing at the time.

The scope of research has expanded into other sectors – agribusiness and food, energy, health and biosecurity, land and water, manufacturing, mineral resources, oceans and atmosphere, space and astronomy. And CSIRO now employs over 5,000 people in sites across Australia, France, Chile and the USA.

CSIRO is the engine room for innovation in Australia with connections into the universities and the collaborative research centres, it is a power house of intellect and ideas, but it does a poor job of letting everybody know how good it is.

Full of super smart people, most people wouldn’t have a clue what CSIRO does, other than, ‘didn’t they invent WiFi or something?’ Which is a problem.

Everyone knows that Australia sells minerals, food, education and tourism to the world. But very few people know that Australia is also an ‘engine room’ for ideas and innovation – when I tell people that, they don’t believe me.

Worse than that, CSIRO has a bigger problem – what is the organisation actually for?

Is the CSIRO ‘engine room’ used to generate the ideas, innovation, new products, services, wealth and jobs that it could generate? – no, it is constrained it lacks permission.

The Science and Industry Research Act states the functions of the organisation are to carry out scientific research for any of the following purposes:

  • Assisting Australian industry
  • Furthering the interests of the Australian community
  • Contributing to the achievement of Australian national objectives or the performance of the national and international responsibilities of the Commonwealth
  • And any other purpose determined by the Minister.

The focus is on research not translation, creating the seeds of innovation, but not then planting the ‘seeds’ and growing them into new industries and jobs.

That is left to somebody else to do, and unfortunately it rarely happens…and when it does happen the ideas and innovations go offshore.

Which is another problem, because, despite being the world’s 13th largest economy, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Australia ranks 74th in economic complexity, surprisingly far lower than many countries that do not share our wealth.

Our innovations are not supported and nurtured here in Australia, but they should be. We have to match our good ideas, investment and vision with cohesive action – Israel does it and so can we.

And we have the means to change that complexity rating and use the CSIRO and our research-based universities effectively.

So…what if CSIRO was finally given permission to do what it always had the potential to do – what if CSIRO was allowed to lead the way on industry development across all productive industry domains.

What if CSIRO was allowed to tell its stories properly on television, radio and every other medium of communication?

What If CSIRO was ‘let off the leash’?

The intellectual energy in that power house coupled with Australia’s 40 research-based universities and the many startups and SMEs across the nation would move Australia up the complexity and innovation rankings like a rocket.

It would only take a wise decision (by the Minister)…and off we would go.

After twenty years in advertising as a creative director working for multinationals in three countries, John Sheridan co-founded Digital Business insights to help organisations leverage the benefits of the new digital economy. He is the co-creator of the RED Toolbox, an innovation platform for Australia’s productive industry sectors.

Picture: CSIRO headquarters, Limestone Avenue, Canberra/Photographer – David McClenaghan

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