Can Australia win the ‘space race’ to become a global innovation hub?

| December 7, 2016

Encouraging innovation by nurturing spaces for creativity and engagement was the theme of Global Access Partners’ 7th Annual Economic Summit. GAP’s Managing Director Catherine Fritz-Kalish introduces the final report from the event.

GAP’s year starts in September with our annual economic summit in New South Wales Parliament House. The summit encapsulates the efforts of our taskforces and committees over the previous year and sets our direction for the twelve months to come.

This year’s opening dinner welcomed a select audience of business, academia and government representatives, including the Prime Minister, to hear Lucy Turnbull AO call for a rebirth of ‘coffee house culture’ in Sydney to catalyse the new economy, just as the coffee houses of 17th-century London started the auction houses, insurance companies and stock exchanges which made that city the centre of the world.

Speakers at ‘Spaces of Australian Innovation’ revealed opportunities in the emerging commercial space industry and urged Australia to embrace a bold and inspiring vision for its future.  Attendees called for new physical and virtual spaces for collaboration, the removal of cultural and systemic barriers to business growth, and university reform to meet new demands in a digital age. The Summit backed the creation of a national space agency, more integrated support for talented young Australians accepted the need for a cultural shift to embrace fresh thinking and agility.

We have just released the final report and infographic from the Summit, and I’d like to share the ways in which these discussions will inform our programme for 2017.

A Vision for Australia

The absence of a bold and ambitious national vision to galvanise Australia’s innovation efforts towards a worthwhile cause and encourage a culture of change was raised by several Summit speakers. We will continue to develop fresh policy approaches to topical issues through our multidisciplinary, bipartisan “Second Track” process. Two informal consultative groups facilitated by GAP, The Vision for Australia Advisory and The Council, bring together high achievers from diverse backgrounds to identify areas where Australia could improve its performance. The Council includes business leaders from the USA, Israel, Germany, Sweden and Turkey, while our Vision for Australia project aims to mobilise civil society to enrich debate, achieve results and inspire action.

Space Tiger

Andrea Boyd, an ISS mission controller at the European Space Agency, inspired us all with her call for Australia to grasp the fast-growing commercial opportunities in satellite services. GAP has now assembled a Space Tiger team to lead an Australian Space Initiative. The team includes Dr Andrew Thomas AO, the Australian-born four-time shuttle astronaut, and Prof Gregory Chamitoff, who spent 199 days aboard the ISS, alongside influential Australian and international scientists, innovators, financial analysts and legal experts. Space Tiger will guide investment, encourage collaboration and help coordinate existing resources. The creation of a national space agency would formalise international relations, establish Australia’s credibility and encourage participation in global supply chains.

Sydney as an Innovation Hub

Lucy Turnbull AO set the tone for the Summit in her keynote address by relating the historical importance of 17th-century London coffee houses to the modern knowledge economy in Sydney today. Her insight was cited and reinforced by many subsequent speakers, with one presenter calling the GAP Summit ‘the ultimate coffee shop’. We will continue to promote ‘coffee-house innovation and culture’ through our Sydney as an Innovation Hub taskforce in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Leadership in Innovation Advisory. The taskforce is producing a strategic plan for Sydney to become a global centre of innovation, with plans to expand and roll out its model across Australia.

Innovation Policy

Policy proposals produced by the Summit will be developed by GAP’s Leadership in Innovation Advisory— a cross-sectoral group of senior executives from government, industry and academia we established in 2015. The Advisory is working on several themes, including the Sharing Economy with the Insurance Australia Group and Courage in the Public Service in partnership with the Department of Employment.

Leadership in Education

This Advisory has worked since 2013 to address the challenges posed by technological disruption, rising costs and evolving expectations. The group includes vice-chancellors, leading academics, businesspeople and senior public servants and operates as an informal advisory body to the Department of Education. In response to the Summit’s calls to improve STEM and entrepreneurship in Australian schools and encourage creative thinking and problem solving across the entire curriculum, the Leadership in Education Advisory will oversee a number of projects in 2017, including:

  • Digital University —focusing on modern methods of education delivery, flexible content, easy accessibility and, above all, relevance to today’s job market;
  • National STEM Investigations —assisting the Government in the coordination and delivery of STEM education in schools, inspired by examples such as Young ICT Explorers and Cuberider, to ensure school and university graduates have the skills which modern growth industries demand;
  • Early Childhood Education—implementing the recommendations of the 2016 GAP Taskforce on Early Childhood Education to use current government funding more effectively to improve social and economic outcomes for vulnerable children and the broader community.

Defence & Cyber Security

Influenced by the Summit’s discussions, the GAP 2017 programme on Security and Risk will focus on defence and threats in cyberspace. A new Taskforce on Cyber Security, launched in October 2016, will encourage greater collaboration to combat criminal and espionage threats to Australian businesses. It will assess the nature and extent of cybercrime in Australia and produce strategies to improve education, awareness, prevention and resilience. Another high-level GAP consultancy will explore opportunities for innovation and exports in the Australian defence industry in the light of major Commonwealth investments.

Energy & The Environment

Environmental reform was offered at the Summit as the overriding challenge Australia must face, while a bold vision for the nation to become a world leader in renewable power and energy efficiency by 2030 could drive domestic policies towards a single, worthwhile goal. We have been advocating a low-carbon future for Australia since our 2009 Low-Carbon Economy Taskforce Report. The National Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment now works with the NSW Department of Industry to improve energy generation, distribution and security. The group encourages the integration of new technologies and fresh thinking into infrastructure development to improve energy security and environmental sustainability.


The Summit agreed that ‘soft infrastructure’ such as health and, in particular, the mental health of all Australians is crucially important to the country’s ongoing social, environmental and economic success. GAP’s health projects are coordinated by the Australian National Consultative Committee on Health. In November 2016, a GAP taskforce released a report on public healthcare procurement, while a new “Second Track” project on hospital funding with the Federal Department of Health is considering the proposed Commonwealth Hospital Benefit as a new funding model for all hospital treatments and procedures. The health benefits of work and the need for early intervention to improve returns after injury have been stressed by the GAP Taskforce on Productive Ageing [link to webpage]. Supported by the NSW and Australian Governments, the Taskforce will broaden its scope in 2017 to tackle ageism in recruiting practices and the underemployment of older Australians.

Mid-Sized Business & Scale-Ups

Mid-sized businesses drive economic growth and innovation in successful economies around the world, and Australia must embrace and promote the value of its mid-sized enterprises. For over a decade, we have advanced the interests of Australian mid-sized businesses through our research and online platforms such as First 5000. Earlier this year, GAP established the Medium Enterprise Advisory to examine the educational, technological and policy settings that facilitate or hinder the transition from small and start-up to medium business. The Advisory will continue its deliberations through 2017 to develop a case for the proposed Institute for Medium-Sized Enterprises (“Growth Institute”). The Institute would provide leadership and support for the sector which, until now, has been largely disconnected and disengaged from the policy process.

All this work will culminate in GAP’s 8th Annual Economic Summit next year, which will focus on “Mid-Sized Business, Scale-Ups and Australia’s Productivity”. The 2017 event will showcase the contributions by our taskforces and national consultative committees and offer attendees an opportunity to share their own views and ideas.

We look forward to sharing this exciting and productive journey with you.