Catherine Livingstone calls for public investment to commercialise research

By TIM DODD

HIGHER EDUCATION EDITOR

 @TimDoddEDU

  • 9:38PM NOVEMBER 28, 2023

Leading business figure Catherine Livingstone said government should invest in commercialising Australian research in fields such as space, clean technology and quantum computing to ensure they are developed here rather than overseas.

“This is not a question of Fortress Australia or protectionism, but rather of achieving a return on the public money which has been invested in supporting research and its translation,” she said.

Other countries coveted Australia’s world-leading IP, she said. “Shame on us if we lose it.”

Delivering the Ralph Slatyer Address on Science and Society – in memory of Australia’s first chief scientist – on Monday, Ms Livingstone said the average duration of innovation policies in Australia was about 2½ years and there needed to be more consistent long-term policies to provide the environment for more successful homegrown technology firms such as the $17bn Cochlear.

Ms Livingstone, who led the successful growth of Cochlear as its chief executive, said Cochlear’s success as a technology start-up was highly dependent on government support as well as research excellence and technical capacity.

“It was the fortuitous conjunction of multiple interdependent elements of the innovation system which enabled Cochlear to survive and grow,” she said. “The role of thoughtful, timely and purposeful government policy was absolutely pivotal.”

The whole process took time, Ms Livingstone said. “It took ten years of research before there was a working prototype (of Cochlear’s bionic ear) and a further ten years of technology translation and regulatory submissions before full commercialisation was possible,” she said.

Cochlear survived to become a properous company and was retained in Australia, Ms Livingstone said, because it had government assistance that was conditional on it continuing to manufacture in Australia.

“Australia has benefited through jobs created, royalties received and taxes paid,” she said.

Ms Livingstone said the failure point in Australia was often in translation of research from the lab bench to a working, validated prototype – the stage before commercialisation.

“There’s a crucial role for research infrastructure, for Cooperative Research Centre’s, co-location and (technology) precincts, and they all play a role in fostering an environment conducive to translation,” she said.