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The Forum > Article Comments > Book review: 'The Australian Miracle: An Innovative Nation Revisited' > Comments

Book review: 'The Australian Miracle: An Innovative Nation Revisited' : Comments

By Andrew Leigh, published 18/5/2006

Thomas Barlow believes that misunderstanding our strengths, weaknesses and position in the world has led to bad science policy-making .

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Andrew, you note that “Australia is likely to do better from a competitive system of funding the most innovative researchers than a top-down approach in which Canberra bureaucrats pick priorities.” This priority-picking is akin to the discredited but still prevalent “picking winners” policies favoured by state governments, and the same criticisms apply.

Commercial businesses and investors thrive or fail on their capacity to correctly identify and pursue profitable opportunities. The skills required for this are highly valued and are in great demand, particularly by firms and investors who operate globally. If there is a profitable opportunity available, it is unlikely to be overlooked.

Nevertheless, governments and public servants with little relevant expertise frequently think that their capacity to identify and pursue viable commercial opportunities exceeds that of the businessmen whose livelihood depends on that capacity. In practice this almost invariably leads to poor investment choices at great cost to the state concerned. A classic example is Queensland’s light metals project, the Australian Magnesium Corporation which failed with the loss of $450 million (mostly from government).

The same applies with government prioritising research with the aim of generating commercially viable innovation. It tends to be driven by simplistic thinking – “Queensland has a lot of indigenous flora, so we can be winners at bio-tech” – rather than serious analysis of what is needed for success in the preferred area. Better, as Barlow says, to fund the best people than to pre-determine the “best” areas for research.
Posted by Faustino, Thursday, 18 May 2006 10:59:55 AM
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Yes we have been innovative and still are, but only on the little things like on both the old and new The Inventors run by our ABC.

Not even our schoolkids now know how much we contributed to agriculture in older days, not only the stump-jump plough, but the HV Mckay header harvester from which grew the massive combine harvesters we now import from the US, worth a half million dollars a throw, as well as many other machines we had helped improve, but not now interested in manufacturing ourselves, helping to make us by far, having the largest balance of payments debt for our size on the globe, actually close to a cool half trillion dollars, and our dumbheaded Labor opposition still not having mentioned it, as a knock against the Howard government.

Maybe Labor still just doesn't know, showing how much we have fallen behind the eight-ball in modern politics. Indeed, even with our Liberal government fully supporting and copying the Yanks in political policy that should have gone out with Pax Romana, but still carried on with colonial Pax Britannica. and now revived again with Pax Americana, and our dear little Aussie-land with its colonial style PM, looking sure that it's a new thing happening just like sliced bread.

One innovation we should have caught on very long ago, is the way we have buggered up our English language, with dumbing down our public with terms like freedom and liberty, used back to front, which even Adam Smith, father of the free-market gave intimation. And putting it in Aussie language, he might have said - remember this free market I am letting you know about, in all truth is really based on pure greed, or that you now have the liberty to knock over the opposition and no need to worry much about it for it's good for the country. Oh, my goodness, but did we have to stuff up such nice sounding words like freedom and liberty over it. Certainly the biggest historical con and spin there ever was.

Posted by bushbred, Friday, 19 May 2006 4:46:16 PM
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