This opinion piece by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first appeared in the Australian Financial Review on Friday, 9 December 2016:
When you think of innovation, flounder and flathead may not come immediately to mind. But this week at the fish markets, I saw first hand how Australian entrepreneurs are using innovation to improve the way they connect with their customers. It is win-win-win for consumers, business and the economy.
Twelve months ago the government launched the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Twenty-four initiatives totalling $1.1 billion are being delivered. This is an investment in Australia's future.
It is also a key plank of the government's national economic plan.
This week's GDP figures are a reminder that we need to improve productivity so we can generate more jobs and economic growth.
Innovation is something that we should all be aware of – it is happening all around us, from our farmers using sensors to maximise crop yield to our manufacturers investing in new technology to improve production and access global supply chains.
It enables our retailers to sell their goods to markets far larger than our own and it underpins the work of our world-class scientists and researchers.
In short, innovation is about so much more than technology start-ups. But it is understandable that many people equate innovation with information technology, or IT. After all, many of the world's most innovative companies – think Apple and Google – also happen to be technology businesses.
A culture of innovation – being prepared to try new ideas and do things differently – is a common thread that runs through both companies, not just technology.
Innovation, by its nature, involves change. I appreciate that change can be difficult and disruptive. But, equally, innovation represents opportunity. It is not something we can hide from.
Innovation is critical if we are to remain competitive in the 21st century. It is the key to our children and grandchildren inheriting an Australia with higher living standards and even more opportunities than we enjoy today.
It is also the key to unlocking productivity growth, which has remained stubbornly stagnant in recent years. Innovation improves productivity and productivity in turn delivers jobs – more and better paying jobs.
This should be a priority for all governments and for businesses across Australia.
Indeed the goal of boosting productivity lies at the heart of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
While the agenda is by no means a silver bullet, it is a critical first step for Australia to become a more innovative and productive country.
For too long Australia has lagged behind other countries on key innovation rankings. Australia was ranked 19th on the 2016 Global Innovation Index, behind New Zealand, Britain and the United States, and we rank last, or near last, on measures of business-research collaboration.
For a country with a proud history of punching well above our weight, it is fair to say that we are yet to reach our potential when it comes to innovation.
But, through the innovation agenda, we are making important progress.
Australia has all of the ingredients to become a regional innovation hub and one of the world's leading digital economies.
Our nation is an attractive destination by any measure. The liveability of our cities and regions is high, our infrastructure is advanced, our workforce is skilled and our scientists are among the best in the world. As a people we are renowned for our global outlook.
The innovation agenda builds on this strong foundation by focusing on key themes such as culture, capital, collaboration and skills. Each is critical for our success.
When it comes to skills, preparing our children for the jobs of the future is an important focus. We know that the fastest growing occupations require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and yet there has been an alarming decline in the number of students – particularly female students – studying maths and science in secondary school.
On Tuesday I visited a public school where children as young as nine were learning how to code. The students were not just learning a vital new skill, they were also learning how to solve problems through logic and reasoning.
Equipping students with the STEM skills that will set them up for a lifetime of opportunity is a priority of the innovation agenda.
If our goal is to be more productive as a nation then we must be more innovative. Innovation is critical if we are to deliver stronger economic growth and unlock Australia's full potential.
And as I saw with the students at Croydon Public School, there is no better place to start than with the skills of our children.
Their future depends on it.