CEDA's State of the Nation: Megatrends and the innovation imperative

Nic Crowther
Mon 10 Oct

This morning, some of Australia’s brightest business, political and scientific minds gathered at Parliament House, Canberra, for the annual State of the Nation two-day conference hosted by the Committee for Economic )Development of Australia (CEDA

As part of the early session in the Great Hall, titled Megatrends and the innovation imperative, three forward-thinkers gathered as part of a panel to share their ideas of where the future is headed. They were:

Catherine Caruana-McManus
Director, Giant Ideas and Chair, IoTAA - Smart Cities and Industries

Dr Nicholas Gruen
Chief Executive Officer, Lateral Economics

Stefan Hajkowicz
Senior Principal Scientist in Strategic Foresight and Leader, Data61 Insight Team, CSIRO

The discussion was kicked off by Catherine Caruana McManus.

“The work I do is very focussed on The Internet of Things (IoT). Over the next few years, we will need to ask how best to use technology in order to make infrastructure smarter. This extends through many areas… water and energy, roads and traffic-light management.

“Truly efficient heating and cooling of buildings can deliver greater productivity for workers and significantly lower costs for business owners. This small example is just a part of what is becoming known as ‘Smarter Cities’ - a much more ‘cross-sectoral’ approach that will involve numerous industries and institutions.

“This will be challenging, but the good news is that Australians are really good at adopting new technologies, and the rewards are there for companies that can move quickly $116 billion worth of potential, depending on how Australia sets itself up for the future.

“A great example is the level of improvements throughout farming and agriculture. Lots of work has been done in this area, but the greatest challenge will be to ensure consistent and broad connectivity. (meanwhile recent reports on the poor wireless internet service being delivered by NBN Co’s Sky Muster satellites does not bode well.

 “The European Union has put IoT at the centre of their digital plan. The United States is doing similar and, in Australia, the IoT is seen as a key disruptor… and government needs to stay ahead.”

Ms Caruana-McManus has also formed IoT Alliance Australia – a think tank designed to empower industry to grow Australia's competitive advantage through IoT.

“The organisation looks across six work streams to identify any gaps in Australia’s discussion on IoT and lining those up with Australia’s competitive advantage. Advanced manufacturing being a key aspect, and there are plenty of small businesses that are moving rapidly in this space.



Open data and privacy are also a priority. How we manage this into the future is already a concern for many users.”

It’s not hard to find current examples of this issue (hello, Census!). The balance between taking advantage of this huge tranche of information will need to be carefully balanced with the incredible opportunities and efficiencies that analysis can bring.

Dr Nicholas Gruen was up next, with a forthright and confronting take on economic stagnation and whether or not people should be allowed to make decisions. Famous for saying, “The amount of human capital that has been developed in the last decade exceeds all others,” there is no doubt Dr Gruen has genuine fears for the future.

“The Twenty-first Century has seen an explosion of new public goods. Meanwhile, our public policy has been established for old technologies and economic models. In the ’80s and ’90s, government was too removing barriers and freeing up the market. The result of all those endeavours was what we call the Global Financial Crisis.

“Following on from that, we’re in a period of sectoral stagnation: Why do we (in Australia) talk about not having a recession for 25 years as a good thing? During the crisis the governor of the Bank of England said that of all the forms of architecture for banking, the one we have is the worst. That model still exists; despite the fact it’s been eight years since the market collapsed.

“What is the answer? I don’t claim to have it, but the debate is very shallow and there needs to be a deeper discussion as to how new technologies serve a public good and the way that the government builds a framework for that to operate.



“There is a new economic textbook that is being written, but we’re not there yet. Surely, if there is slack in the economy, then the response is to loosen policy the Reserve Bank of Australia works on the old book, but that doesn’t happen nearly fast enough.

“Politics is a good indicator of this: Donald Trump is part of the new movement of vox populi politics that includes the Brexit and a recent vote in Argentina. These are occasions where the people are thinking they are voting for good decisions that are dead wrong.



“Here’s an example of how we can make better decisions: a citizen’s jury. This was used in the UK where a selection of Brits was asked to consider a conducting a referendum on leaving the EU. Going into process, 60% of the jury were in favour of separation. After both sides of the argument were presented, the vote was down to 45%. Why? Because the argument had been clearly and thoughtfully presented, rather than being a decision based on a snippet of news and some opinion from social media.

“But, as we’ve seen far too often, politics gets in the way. How else could you explain the cockamamie replacement for carbon tax we now have? Why would you reward people for consuming less water after the drought hits? It’s madness.”

Following on the economic theme, Stefan Hajkowicz examined what the industries of the future might be.

“There is no doubt that, in most of the OECD, income is stagnating and growth in flat-lining across most aspects of the economy. The ‘innovation imperative’ is part of a trend towards changing this stagnation where new, powerful ideas change the way we work and do business.

“The nature of what generates wealth is changing, and changing significantly. What will jobs and income look like? At Data61, part of CSIRO, we produced a report titled Tomorrow’s Digital Enabled Workforce to examine this.



“It’s important to remember that change isn’t a bad thing, and nor is the disruption of an industry. For example, Excel spreadsheets didn’t kill off accountants. Rather, the smart accountants quickly worked out how to utilise them.

“Food and agriculture is clearly the main opportunity for Australia. As there is wealth growth in Asia we will see health concerns. Increasingly, providence is very important for more wealthy buyers in China. The Shanghai buyer wants to see the farm where their tomatoes were grown. How do we do this?

“New Zealand is moving quickly to cover this – but we are not moving nearly as fast.

“CSIRO is looking closely at ‘sunrise industries’. To take the lead from Singapore, the nation-state built a shipping port and an airport before anyone in Asia knew they needed it. In the following decades, they were the first in Asia to develop an innovation hub (one that rivals San Francisco and Israel), and are at the forefront of automation.



“Now they are looking at ‘sunrise industries’ such as fin-tech (among other areas) to pre-empt the needs of the billions of people around them. What will this look like?”

The stagnation that Stefan referred to there is very much part of what has led to the Brexit and rise of Donald Trump (and perhaps Pauline Hanson?)

“China and the South China Sea is a setting for change, as is NATO’s relationship with Russia these geopolitical discussions engage some of the biggest economies in the world and will be a challenge to manage as we move into the future to recover growth. Clearly there is a lot at stake, and the rest of this decade will be crucial.”

The CEDA State of the Nation 2016 conference continues today and tomorrow, with a Gala Dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House tonight.