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SPEECH: Innovation Booster Grants

May 16, 2023

HON WILSON TUCKER [22-Feb-2023]: I thank Hon Dan Caddy for moving this excellent motion today. We heard from the Minister for Innovation and the Digital Economy and the honourable member about some of the government programs in this space, including the innovation booster fund and the new industries fund. I believe these are steps in the right direction and an acknowledgement by this government that we really need to diversify our economy and try to wean ourselves off the red stuff up in the Pilbara. We need to break out of the boom-and-bust cycle we find ourselves in by investing in the innovation space and investing in startups, creating a healthy ecosystem, trying to diversify our economy and future, and futureproofing Western Australia.

If the government is really committed to supercharging the startup industry and diversifying the economy, a number of ingredients are required and a number of levers need to be pulled. We need to get it right. As we know, innovation is a cornerstone of economic growth and the government has a crucial role to play in creating an environment that supports and encourages innovation.

Firstly, we need to invest in research and development programs to support the creation of new technologies and innovations. The government can collaborate with academic and research institutions to identify new opportunities for research and development investment in areas such as renewable energy, digital technologies and biotechnology.

Secondly, we need to provide incentives for businesses to invest in innovation. The government can provide tax credits or grants to companies that invest in R&D, as well as other incentives, such as access to mentorship programs and funding for startup companies.

Thirdly, we need to create an environment that promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing between companies. This can be done through the establishment of innovation hubs, which can provide space and resources for entrepreneurs, investors and researchers to work together and share ideas.

Fourthly, we need to provide access to funding for innovation projects. This can be done through the creation of venture capital funds, which can provide funding for startup companies and help to bring new  technologies and innovations to market.

Finally, we need to provide access to training and support programs for innovators. This can be done through entrepreneurship training programs, mentorship initiatives and other resources that can help  innovators to develop the skills and knowledge that they need to succeed.

I have a confession to make: the last five paragraphs that I read out were not written by me. They were not written by my hardworking staff or, indeed, by a human. They were, in fact, written by a computer program called ChatGPT. For members who are not familiar with ChatGPT, it is an artificial intelligence program powered by reinforced machine learning that takes prompts and questions and generates conversational text as an output. Members are probably asking, “Wilson, why did you just read out a wall of text from a computer?” I did it for a number of reasons. Firstly, I did it because I believe in everything that that computer program said about the innovation space and what the government can do to supercharge the sector. Secondly, I did it because we are talking about innovation and technology and I thought that using an innovative and disruptive technology example like ChatGPT would be very apt. Thirdly, I did it because the rate of technology adoption and advancement is increasing on an exponential scale.
It is moving very quickly, disrupting traditional markets and industries and changing how we work and communicate. Some commentators out there are saying that we are on this exponential curve of change in technological advancement and that in the next 10 years, we will see the same rate of change as we have seen in the last 100 years. I ask members to cast their minds back 100 years. I think some members were probably here, haunting these halls 100 years ago!

Hon Stephen Dawson: Who are you talking about? Name names!

Hon WILSON TUCKER: I was not looking in any particular direction—probably in the direction of Hon Darren West! No, I am not singling out any one member.

The first supermarket that came to fruition was created 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, the first light switch was invented. If we fast forward to today, we have technologies such as CRISPR, the gene-editing technology that can change the building blocks of life; it can change a DNA sequence. That is the scope of change that we are talking about from then till now. We will potentially see the same rate of change in the next 10 years. Whether or not we like it, technology is here; it is disrupting how we work and communicate. We as a society in Western Australia andthe government have an opportunity to either embrace technology and seize the opportunities and benefits it can provide or basically put our head in the sand and miss out on the opportunity.

We have seen play out in the media very recently some commentary about ChatGPT in the educational space. There were some examples of students using ChatGPT to generate their essays—a form of plagiarism. There was commentary from some teachers who came out very strongly against ChatGPT and said, “This is plagiarism. This program should be banned and students should not have access to it.” There were other teachers—I sided with these teachers—who I believe took a more measured, futuristic view and said, “These students are going to grow up using ChatGPT and artificial intelligence and more powerful iterations of ChatGPT, so rather than trying to ban it, let us try to work with it. Let’s embrace it and use it to elevate our thinking and potentially become more efficient in our daily tasks.”

Members heard previously some of ChatGPT’s thoughts on the innovation space and what the government can do here. I will share with members some of my human thoughts, and I will use the Western Australian lens in particular. In my humble opinion, the most important thing that the government needs to get right when we talk about the startup space and building a healthy ecosystem and encouraging the innovation sector in Western Australia is people. If we are going to solve complex problems and develop innovative solutions that disrupt markets and ways of thinking, we need to attract the right talent into Western Australia. There are numerous examples and evidence to suggest that when the right mix of people are in the same room working on a complex problem, they can solve it. I am talking about a computer engineer and a data scientist sitting down and basically building a data pipeline, accessing information and being able to interpret that data, or a domain expert, a medical researcher, a program manager or someone in that business space who can ask the question. Then there are the people at the back end with the expertise to provide the answer. That is when these scalable solutions can be found that can really put
Western Australia on the map.

We heard some commentary from the minister about the growing number of people in the IT sector. The Digital pulse report from the Australian Computer Society stated that over one million Australians will be working in the technology sector by 2024. The Tech Council of Australia, which is one of the pre-eminent lobby groups for the technology sector, has said that in the near future, Western Australia will have more IT positions than resource positions, which will be a massive paradigm shift for Western Australia. There are a few different ways to encourage the number of people we need in these roles to get into the second fastest growing sector in Australia, including attracting people, training people and retraining people. Firstly, the training aspect is about making sure we have a healthy pipeline of graduate students coming through and taking up technology positions. We know that there is a massive gender gap in the technology sector not just in Western Australia, but across Australia; I think it is around 31 per cent. The government has a key role in trying to attract women into the sector. I think there is a fairly antiquated stereotype in the technology sector. I think that people have a vision of a nerdy guy in the basement,
like a mushroom growing in the darkness.

Hon Kate Doust: You have a lot of experience of that!

Hon WILSON TUCKER: Yes; there was a time and a place for that.

The sector is different. It is diverse. It is moving on. The United States is further along in this conversation. It has not quite got the gender balance right, but it is further along than Australia.

The other element of training is about trying to encourage people with neurological and physical disabilities into the tech sector. A number of roles that are emerging are fairly repetitive but are also very important, such as data labelling. A number of people in the disability sector who want to enter the workforce could fill these very important roles, and they should be encouraged to do so. That is where the government can help join the dots and get them into those positions.

On the retraining aspect, 120 000 workers are needed across the sector, which represents nine per cent of the population in Western Australia. Those nine per cent are people who want to move to the technology sector and basically do a midlife career pivot. The government has a role to play in skills and training recognition to help make that transition much easier for them.

Finally, we need to attract people to Western Australia. The minister mentioned that Western Australia has a bit of an image problem. We are a mining state, and that is what we are known for, but we have a lot of success stories in the innovation space. I do not think we are very good at blowing our own horns in this space; we are certainly not as loud as the Americans.

We are competing in a very globalised industry, and the pandemic compounded that. The pandemic changed how people work. We have moved into a more distributed work environment. The tech sector and innovation space have been at the forefront of that. It means that it is no longer an east versus west equation; WA is competing for top-tier talent to come to this state from other countries. We are very much behind and not competitive on salaries.

There is brain gain and brain drain. We suffer from brain drain, with people chasing golden handcuffs overseas working for US tech companies because Australian companies are not competitive on salaries. In WA, we need to really think about our strengths, what we can do to attract people and how we can stay competitive. If we cannot do it on salaries, maybe we can do on lifestyle. It is something the government really needs to think about: How do we get the right people here? How do we attract and retain them? A number of people came back to the state during the pandemic. Borders were shutting and that was an impetus for people to come home to familiar ground. WA was for all intents and purposes free. Now that the borders are open, we need to try to make sure those people stay in Western Australia and that brain capital does not chase other opportunities overseas.

I will leave it there. There are a number of ingredients that government needs to get right. We need to think outside the box, lean into our strengths as a state, promote ourselves and stay competitive on a global scale.