Federal effort to nurture entrepreneurs - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

As flagged last month, the Federal Budget announced the end of the core industry programs (Commercialisation Australia, Innovation Investment Fund, Industry Innovation Councils, Innovation Precincts, Enterprise Connect, Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Carbon Capture and Storage).

The Good Oil is that the Department of Industry will announce its new flagship program in late June or July. It’s the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program - $484 million over five years “to support the commercialisation of good ideas, job creation and lifting the capability of small business, the provision of market and industry information, and access to business management advice from experienced private sector providers and researchers.”

Reading between the lines, I’d say AusIndustry will deliver this via a re-born Enterprise Connect in partnership with state agencies. The Industry Skills Fund ($476 million) might  link with it.

What does this mean for local government? I’d say councils should be thinking how they can assist these new advisers and leverage their presence. Pitch Clubs (entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to financiers), Breakfast Meetings and Collaboration Centres should become de rigueur.

Already Adelaide CBD has The Hub (Peel Street) where entrepreneurs of all ages lease a desk in an open plan setting, drink coffee, and brainstorm their ideas. Melbourne and Sydney have similar. Adelaide also has the Innovation Lab at 300 Flinders Street and the Adelaide City Digital Hub in the new City Library. Why not do the same in the suburbs?

Tips for dealing with Government
A long-time Cockatoo member exited the workforce recently after a 42 years in senior positions with Austrade, Trade Practices Commission, Invest Australia, the Department of Industry etc. We asked him for 5 tips in dealing with Government. Answer was:

  1. Be concise and succinct in your objectives.
  2. Target the key decision makers.
  3. Deal with Ministers and their offices, not bureaucrats.
  4. Don’t believe everything you hear from public servants.
  5. Be patient and prepared for the long haul.

Points three and four are of particular interest. He explained that government processes are so tight and formal these days that bureaucrats really aren’t able to offer much input.

Wire rope barriers
Drove to Melbourne last month. Amazed at the work on wire rope barriers on the Hume Highway around Benalla-Seymour-Kilmore. The consolidated wisdom is that:
  • Run-off-road crashes are the largest single source of serious road trauma in Victoria – three to four of every ten fatalities.
  • Wire rope barriers significantly reduce the incidence of all crashes - reductions range between 75 percent and 87 percent - consistent with overseas findings.
  • They gradually absorb the impact energy avoiding the severe outcomes associated with head-on collisions, crashes into trees, rollovers.
  • The cheese-cutter problem for bikies is not supported by accident data.
The Victorians seem to be leading the nation in the road safety field, so it’s worth following. VicRoads advises that the cost is $80–$150 per metre – say $100,000 per km or $1 million for a 10km stretch.

One can quickly recall stretches crying out for these barriers e.g. Mt. Compass/Victor Harbor, east Gippsland, King’s Highway to Bateman’s Bay, Gordonvale to Atherton. The time is right - Budget announced funds for National Highway Upgrades ($229m), Black Spots ($200m) and Roads to Recovery ($350m). Councils can approach their state roads authority, or fill out the pro-forma on the Dept. Infrastructure (federal) website.

Medical Research Future Fund
The newly announced Fund seems odd in a sea of Budget cuts. It’s estimated to grow to $20 billion by 2020 and pay annual dividends of $1.1 billion by 2023. It’s being touted as the largest of its kind worldwide, financing cures and treatments for cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis etc.

The facts are that much of Australia’s R&D effort in this sector has been commercialised off-shore. We figure there is huge scope to establish cluster programs to facilitate local value-adding in the research hot spots viz. Brisbane, Parkville, Monash Uni, Perth Hospital, Westmead, Macquarie Park, ANU, around Flinders and Adelaide Universities and hospitals. We’re trying to find the champions - contact us if you have an interest in medical research clusters. 

Canberra has supporters within!
Last month I humbly suggested that Canberra really is a good cross-section of Australia because most of us came from somewhere else.

Well, a local Cockatoo member told me to stop being humble and run the following:
“You should also say that Canberra is unique because it is our only capital city in a rural environment with many lifestyle benefits that Australians cluttered up on the coast no longer fully understand (including the difference between a continental climate and a coastal climate). For those of us who enjoy country living, but with the sophistication of a capital city, there is no better place to be in Australia. The trouble is the majority of Australians these days are first or second generation post-war arrivals who don’t venture beyond the metropolitan areas and have no experience of the bush! And please add the Arboretum to the list of attractions – it seems to be getting a lot of interest around the traps because the plebs elsewhere haven’t heard of the term.”

The Arboretum is indeed going to be marvellous – there are 200 species of native and exotic species now shooting up, and fantastic views over Lake Burley Griffin. The ACT Government coughed up $50 million, PM Gillard $20 million and smaller contributions from local corporations such as ACTEW.  The champions include Jon Stanhope (ex-Chief Minister) and John Mackay (ex-Chair of ACTEW) who came in for lots of small-minded flak in the early days. The other key champion is Jocelyn Plovits, Chair of the Friends of the National Arboretum – she played an integral role in its vision and development, and worked for the ACT community in education, health and occupational health and safety, and Canberra’s
bushfire recovery.