Innovate or die. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s advice for Australia

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has told Startcon conference that Australia can’t deny the crucial significance of the innovation sector, in the same way, we as we can’t deny climate change.

“The political reality is – it’s like denying climate change, it’s denying reality,” said Mr Turnbull. “The world is changing and if you want to live in the past and deny changes around you, then you will get wiped out by newcomers.” 

Speaking at the opening of Startcon in Sydney, Mr Turnbull pointed out that Australia was in better shape now than it was when the Coalition Government first launched the National Science and Innovation Agenda in 2015. 

“Venture capital investment has grown 10 times since then,” he said. “Australia is now at the centre of innovation and we have produced some unicorns.” 

Mr Turnbull told the conference that innovation was crucial to the economy because it enabled productivity. Mr Turnbull was asked whether he thought that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was doing a “good job” on innovation. 

“It’s not his comfort zone to be sure. In the sense, he doesn’t have the background or enthusiasm for it that I did – or do.  

“But Scott was the Treasurer when we agreed on the National Science and Innovation Agenda. That wasn’t something that popped out of my head one morning, that was a process that we worked on together,” he said. 

Mr Turnbull said that a decision to ensure a large proportion of the $200 billion defences spend had seen capabilities built in Australia, creating an ecosystem and “spinning off” new opportunities. 

However, he said that in the future it was important that advocates and politicians understood the innovation sector. 

“I think a lot of people find technical areas baffling and they can’t get their head around it. Something like the significance of virtualisation in the telecom sector – particularly. So profound. And yet, it is remarkable how very few people in government understand its significance.” 

He recommended that innovation policy be tested, constantly updated and, when appropriate, discarded – to ensure the strength of our economy.

“The time we are living in are unprecedented in both its scale and its pace. If you want to succeed you have to embrace those times and be prepared to make volatility your friend,” he said.”

On the topic of the NBN the former Prime Minister said that figures suggesting that Australia had some of the slowest bandwidth in the world were “BS.”

“We beat up the NBN and they have done a good engineering job building the network, but they are hopeless at PR. We are now in a situation where 10 million people can access the NBN. It’s an enormous achievement,” he said.

Mr Turnbull concluded his address with a pointed message about the courage and commitment of Australians working in the innovation sector. 

“Government policies are critically important but ultimately our best assets are not under the ground, he said. “They are walking around on top it.”