Not Just a Lucky Country

by ericknight

We tend of think of Australia as a lucky country – a land rich with minerals and mining. But it imples we are just lucky. Our wealth comes from something we got for free … not hard work.

Perhaps this values us too lightly? Tonight on ABC radio (Wednesday 24th) I’ll discuss an alternative narrative with Paul Barclay on Australia Talks. Please tune in to Radio National from 6pm to listen. More details here

To my mind, we’re not as bad at innovation as you might expect. The world is changing and there are things about Australia which are to our advantage. We have a highly mobile population. We are heavily invested in public research and education ($7 billion annually). And we have deep pockets – with the world’s fourth largest funds management industry.

But if there is a problem, it’s not the lack of ideas or potential. It’s the importance we place on commercialising them. As the economic producitivty agenda makes headlines, our politicians and journalists turn to two ideas: labour market flexibility and investment in education. But what about capital investment in the hardware of the economy? In Australia Talks I’ll be talking about the widgets and gadgets which are changing our economic landscape one invention at a time.

The Americans have a grand history of venture investment and innovation. The Rockefellers were great venture capitalists after John D. made his fortune in oil. The retail family, the Waltons, are another example. In Australia, we have shown a greater proclivity towards what’s risky over what’s novel. We invest in stocks, and bonds, and property. But private investment in technology – venture capital investment – is shrinking.

Part of the job is for the hard heads of finance – men and women who talk numbers and balance books. Another part  is inspiring a generation of dreamers and entrepreneurs. Recently whilst at a Melbourne jelly to interview some start up entrepreneurs for The Australian, I was told they felt shunned as start up entrepreneurs. Their parents thought they were drop outs.

Americans treat entrepreneurs like we treat sportsmen. They respect their hard work, determination, and willingness to have a go. Maybe we are a lucky country after all. But if we don’t bank that luck wisely, we’ll be lost when it runs out.

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