There's no doubt that 2020 has dealt us some tremendous challenges – from prolonged drought, to catastrophic bushfires, COVID-19 and now a pandemic-induced recession. But we have the opportunity to harness science for an innovation-led recovery.
Many of these issues were present before this year, but together they have escalated to crisis point and necessitated an acceleration in our response.
Companies that are navigating the crisis well have done so by embracing innovation, like the explosion of telehealth, virtualisation, and the accelerated adoption of many digital technologies across multiple sectors.
In the case of our economy, ironically, this recession may be the greatest opportunity for innovation-led growth we've had in decades.
A crisis calls to action
The last 30 years of economic growth in Australia have lulled us into a false sense of security, and over that time business investment in R&D has fallen. But there's nothing like a crisis to snap us back into action.
We've known for years that we need to transform our economy and lift the complexity of our exports. Our Australian National Outlook report, which looked out to 2060, predicted the slow decline of our great industries if we don't reinvent them.
COVID-19 and the current economic crisis has brought this issue to the fore and helped to create urgency around solving it.
COVID-19 highlighted collaboration
It has also shown us the incredible impact we can have when we work together under shared goals – like achieving, in months, milestones in vaccine development that can take decades, or mobilising Australian industry in an effort reminiscent of war‑times to establish sovereign supply of critical personal protective equipment.
If we can harness this level of collaboration and goodwill and focus it on a mission of recovery and resilience, we can accelerate our recovery, create new jobs, and grow our economy.
With that in mind, in August this year, CSIRO and our partners announced a program of missions to help prepare Australia for our future challenges and grow the future industries and jobs that will secure our prosperity.
On a mission to address national challenges
The missions address challenges like our food security and water quality, our energy and sustainability, our health and wellbeing, as well as future-proofing our industries.
Minerals and resources have been a historic strength, but they have dipped from historic highs and experienced a profound contraction before COVID-19. The market shifted, and again, innovative companies adapted and found ways to flourish.
To maintain our leadership, our minerals and resources must evolve with the market-trend towards low emissions, and transform to create unique, higher value products from our commodities and technology exports that differentiate us globally.
Australia has the potential to lead in this area, together with the adoption of new technologies like artificial intelligence and autonomous systems for remote operations, sensing and characterisation techniques, selective extraction and low‑emission technologies.
Digital technology has enabled precision agriculture, precision health, and may well lead to precision mining where only the ore is extracted with minimal impact on the environment.
Australia has rallied around great challenges before – as a fledgling nation we emerged from Spanish Flu, war and Depression to prosper and grow strong. I believe we will do it again, with science to guide our way.