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19 September 2019 Speech

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I would like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Owners of the land that we are on today, and pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight. I'm delighted to be here with such distinguished company, including the Hon. Kevin Anderson MP, NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation.

It is great to have an opportunity to come together and celebrate projects and partnerships that address the challenges faced today as we build the city of tomorrow.

It is an exciting time to be heading up CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, because science and technology is starting to step into the opportunity created by our slowing economy, which has for so long relied on sectors like resources and financial services, to create new markets.

CSIRO is in the top one per cent of global research agencies. We have an opportunity right now to capitalise on our rich history of scientific excellence and create a sustainable existence for future generations.

CSIRO recently published the Australian National Outlook Report. The Outlook is a bold undertaking to use science to map out the future of Australia through to 2060.

Asking how we can harness innovation to get way out in front of our competitors – to create a better future and more opportunities for all Australians.

The Report identified two contrasting outcomes.

The first shows a prosperous model of growth if we start taking decisive action today to address the challenges in front of us; the second outcome shows a long slow decline into the sunset if we take the "do nothing" approach.

Our future will be defined by the decisions and risks we make today and will be invented by the science we back.

The gulf between those who are being disruptors and those who are waiting is growing exponentially – and the trouble with exponential technologies is once you realise, they are competing with you, they have already raced far ahead of you.

We have the choice, we can choose to disrupt ourselves and yes that can be painful.

But if we wait for someone else to do it to us, we can kiss goodbye our high standard of living, high wages and future prosperity.

They say time changes things, but you have to change them yourself. The time is now for us to up our innovation game.

In CSIRO we did just that. CSIRO is a bit like a microcosm of Australian innovation. For decades it's been shrinking, and Australia's future will do just that if we don't take action.

In CSIRO we have been able to turn that around by using the ANO to direct our innovation to solve the biggest challenges and embrace the opportunities in front of us. In 2017/2018 we invested more than $250M in NSW alone and have 1100 staff based in the State.

There's no doubt the decisions we make today will impact the future of Australia. Those decisions will be hard, but at CSIRO we're focused on the solutions.

Through science and technology, we've created healthier Australians, a more sustainable environment, entire new industries and new jobs, and grown the wealth of the nation. 

It will require significant shifts across five keys areas – industry, cities, energy, land use and our culture, to fully embrace the opportunities that lie in front of us.

We are already working with NSW government on modelling to improve congestion, improve hospital service levels and forecast infrastructure needs in schools.

There are big drivers for taking action.

Innovation converts ideas into new industries, and invoices

When I am asked what keeps me awake at night, it’s the untapped opportunities that Australia misses out on.

In the US, innovation through venture capital backed start-ups generates 21 per cent of GDP and their jobs growth. I saw that first hand when I was in Silicon Valley. In Australia it's less than one per cent.

From where I sit, it's not because of a lack of ideas or innovation. Australian's have an ingenuity that’s second to none. But we fail to take the risks to invest in it. To get out in front.

We aren't looking ahead and creating a market vision. The ANO maps out the opportunities in front of us – we need leaders who are willing to think radically and see what others cannot, using science and technology to create something people thought was impossible.

The research suggests it is possible to achieve higher real GDP per capita - as much as 36 per cent - while ensuring growth is inclusive and environmentally sustainable. But that requires action, to invest in our ideas, to be ahead of the game.

One of the Key shifts we need to make in Australia is around our Cities. We need to be asking:

How can we use science and technology to build smarter cities?

We need to begin to imagine what’s possible when you design a town or suburb from scratch using science that can simulate every aspect of what you imagine building – from energy and environment, to economics and social science. Like the digital twins we are building of Western Sydney.

Our estimates show that Australia will grow to a population size of 41M by 2060.

We need to be able to ensure our cities can grow while maintaining their liveability.

Our modelling shows that we could increase the density of our major cities by between 60 and 88 per cent, with much of the increased density coming in the middle suburbs, roughly 7 - 20km from today's CBDs.

Why? This will allow more people to live closer to high-quality jobs, education, services and recreation. If we don't, we will have a spread that leads to congestion and locks a large portion of the population out of those opportunities. We don't want to see that happen.

We need to also move away from our current hub-and-spoke mass-transit model and planning for autonomous vehicles, which will make ride sharing and last-mile transport more convenient. Along with an AI system to manage and minimise energy use.

We have been working with our friends at Celestino, and others to make those aspirations a reality through our Urban Living Lab and Urban Edge Partnership.

For example, concepts around 'smart' and 'micro' grids promise to make energy and water systems more dynamically adaptable to changing demand and supply, allowing more localised production and control – and minimising the usage of both.

As AI frees up the workforce it will open the door to work on challenges that require greater degrees of creativity and innovation. We must be ahead of the curve on this and use this to our unique advantage.

We need to keep an open mind in our approach to change, like a parachute, that's when it works best.

At CSIRO we recognised a significant opportunity to help shape the foundations of Australia's future industries through great science and technology. What was clearly missing was the ability to translate science into market. Like I said earlier we aren't short of ideas, but we've failed to capture the full capability of them.

Did you know Australia invented solar cells? But do you know who the global market leader is? China. Why? Because they saw the future market opportunity and bet big on it. Now they own it.

That's the type of mindset change we need here in Australia.

At CSIRO we created ON. Australia’s national deep science and technology accelerator. We chose the word ON specifically as the opposite of what was the common answer NO. ON performs the best science accelerator in the world. It teaches our scientists how to get their science out of the lab and into the hands of a real customer to solve a real problem.

We have supported more than 92 teams in NSW alone through this program. Covering over 159 projects with total project value worth more than $17M which created over 200 jobs.

In the last couple of years, Thompson Reuters ranked CSIRO in the world's top 20 innovation organisations – placing Australia 6th as a country – a list we've never been on before. A first for any Australian institution.

We have also increased our engagement with existing companies, especially SMEs – who bring products, customers, and market share but don't have the leverage to use science to reinvent themselves to be more competitive globally.

We have supported thousands of SMEs developing and delivering innovation to market through utilising our facilities for testing and evaluation. Giving Australian SMEs a headstart.

For example, our Lindfield Collaboration Hub has been an innovation incubator. It has churned out some game changing businesses.

A recent example is autonomous vehicle start-up Baraja which started at the Hub with two people and now employs 100 people.

Baraja have invented a new type of sensing mechanism for self-driving cars and has just closed a series A funding, with $32 million invested in the venture, including investment from the CSIRO Innovation Fund, managed by Main Sequence Ventures.

We have also created the venture capital fund Main Sequence Ventures which invests in science.

It's a way to get more Australian science off the benchtop and into the market. It was started a few years ago with investment from the Government and $70M from the royalties from our invention of WiFi.

Last year the Fund completed its first round of capital raising and is now a $240M Fund with investors from Australia and around the world backing Australian science.

It's invested in nearly 20 science-driven start-ups so far, and I encourage you to keep an eye out for news in the next few weeks about a significant investment we've made into a healthier, more sustainable fast food with a well-known fast food chain. The announcement will be a "whopper". ??

CSIRO has driven all of these new initiatives because we believe that when we shift our focus to seeing the opportunities rather than the challenges, we create the future we desire.

In closing, I would like to say we are on the cusp of change right now. We need to continue thinking of innovative and creative ways to take us toward Outlook Vision mapped out in the ANO for the city and the nation.

I congratulate all the winners in advance and to every single person and team who was nominated here tonight. It is vital to our city and progress that we take time to acknowledge the tremendous innovation and collaboration that is already taking place. You never know who you will inspire next from the actions you take.


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