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Australia blind to the innovation boom - Beattie

Foresight … the former Queensland premier Peter Beattie.

Foresight … the former Queensland premier Peter Beattie. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

THE former Queensland premier Peter Beattie says Australia's failure to commercialise its research discoveries meant it was ''blind to its own future'' and would be left behind in this century of innovation.

The retired politician's sentiment's were echoed by leading scientists, including the Nobel prize winner Brian Schmidt, who say the country's next resource following the mining boom needs to be its brain power.

Mr Beattie, now a director of the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, urged Australia's superannuation firms to invest some of their trillion dollars in local research and development. The fund supports the commercialisation of early stage medical research discoveries and receives money from state and federal governments as well as two super funds.

The government should also spend more money helping researchers translate their inventions and ideas out of the laboratory to market, Mr Beattie said. ''There are 23 million of us and [while] we have great mineral resources the mining boom cannot go on forever. You can get enormous returns [from investing] in medical devices.''

The head of Science & Technology Australia, Anna-Maria Arabia, agreed investment from superannuation funds could solve the country's issue raising capital for research and development. ''Science should be financed rather than funded.''

On the 2012 Global Innovation Index, which is co-published by French business school INSEAD, Australia ranked 23rd overall, but came in 107th out of 141 countries in terms of innovation efficiency - the number of inventions the country generates compared to its regulatory environment and number of skilled innovation workers - behind Bolivia, Bosnia and Mozambique.

The head of business development at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Julian Clark, said Australia invested in good science and clinical research that resulted in publications that were cited internationally.

But each year Australia was granted just 18 patents per million people, compared to 53 patents per million people in the United States and 90 per million in Sweden, Dr Clark said. ''In Australia researchers seem to be separated from translation and commercialisation, whereas in the US and Scandinavia success is not measured until you have translated outcomes.''

Professor Schmidt, an astrophysicist, said Australia needed to develop the expertise and infrastructure to better commercialise its research.

''If I had a brilliant idea and I had to try and find money, I don't know what I'd do,'' said Professor Schmidt.

The Chief Scientist of Australia, Ian Chubb, said Australia struggled to commercialise its discoveries compared to other countries in part because university researchers were funded based on their academic journal publications.

The Office of the Chief Scientist was preparing a list of recommendation on how to address the problems.

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