Hon Minister Mahen Kumar SEERUTTUN
Speakers and delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure to be here today at the first Australia Mauritius Research and Innovation Forum being held to mark 50 years of independence in Mauritius – a landmark initiative, during an historic year.
I am delighted to see so many participants. It is thanks to your response and interest to this initiative that we have managed to gather such a diverse and interesting group of leading Australian and Mauritian scientists, entrepreneurs, policy makers and thought leaders. I am sure that we will have dynamic and constructive discussions on the role of research and the private sector to drive innovation and why innovation is needed to ensure inclusive and sustainable economic development. It is my wish that this forum will provide fertile ground to build on the successful partnerships between our countries.
Innovation is rightly recognised as vital to the world’s future prosperity and wellbeing. It can be explained in various ways – and I am sure that you all have a view on this that will be discussed and debated today – but allow me to summarise it in a few words: Innovation is born from opportunities and risk taking, it develops thanks to science, knowledge and technologies, and it thrives on partnerships and collaboration.
Historically, Australia has been an innovative country, underpinned by a world-class education system. The clever country, Australians engage with the world with positivity, determination and a keen sense of what is possible. This outlook goes right through to our approach to teaching and learning – to inspire confidence, create real-world skills, and encourage independent thinking, teamwork and leadership.
Australian scientists and researchers have been responsible for major breakthroughs and technological advances around the world. For example, Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of patent applications for renewable energy and biotechnology.
Australians invented the modern standard for Wi-Fi. The cervical cancer vaccine was developed by an Australian – Professor Ian Frazer. Australians also invented or developed:
Google Maps; the black box flight recorder; the bionic ear (Cochlear implant); Spray-on-skin; Penicillin as a medical antibiotic; CETO wave energy; and Permaculture.
Indeed over 1 billion people around the world rely on Australian discoveries and innovation every day. But to remain competitive, develop the economy sustainably, and grow jobs, we need to continue to innovate.
The Australian Government has a bold innovation policy agenda which supports the creation of spaces for experimentation, iteration and risk-taking where the pay-offs can be significant. Australian policies, like the Global Innovation Strategy, support business, researchers and startups to boost international linkages. Because we know the best innovations are born out of collaboration and Australia is looking to build its links internationally to deliver on its vision of an open and entrepreneurial economy. And that is why we have partnered with the Mauritian Ministry of Education and the Mauritius Research Council, with the generous support of Murdoch University, and other sponsors Curtin University, Les Moulins de la Concorde and Nissan Mauritius to gather in this room today. Together - we all share a deep commitment to research, innovation, and partnership. I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the Education Minister Mrs Dookun-Luchoomun and the commitment of her Ministerial colleagues in driving this agenda.
Mauritius, as well, is promoting innovation. It ranked second in Africa in the 2017 Global Innovation Index. But, like Australia, it also wants to do better.
In my short time here, I have witnessed elements of Mauritian innovation – like the Turbine incubator run by Australian alumni Marie Espitalier-Noel. I have seen the fruits of innovative partnerships with Australian private entities, like Octopus Technologies developing new aquaculture ventures in Rodrigues, or with Carnegie Clean Energy on proposals to develop renewable energy solutions. Our shared interests in developing the ocean economy provides a natural platform for government, research and private sector collaborations between our two countries, and with others in the region, including through organisations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association. And that is why the Australian Government is co-funding with the Mauritian Government the manufacture of a multipurpose research vessel to be produced by Australian firm Steber International and I thank the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping for his commitment to developing this partnership.
Research, knowledge and access to technologies are critical to a thriving innovation system. If innovation is in Australian and Mauritian nature, research and knowledge are the fertile ground needed for it to grow. The generation and use of data, for example, can have a positive impact on people’s lives. And are a pre-requisite for Governments in the formulation of sound policy and regulatory frameworks.
Access to technologies can generate economic growth. Australia is working to overcome the lack of physical banking infrastructure with mobile phone and digital banking. Research suggests that digital financial services could spur inclusive economic growth and add US$3.7 trillion to the GDP of emerging economies within a decade. However, access to technologies needs to go hand in hand with social research to ensure local relevance, language and literacy barriers are overcome.
In 2015, Australia launched the innovationXchange to catalyse and support innovation across the Australian aid program. Through this exchange we have provided support to the blue economy, recognising the potential for solutions to come from sources outside of government. Our Blue Economy Aquaculture Challenge sought innovative solutions to problems facing aquaculture. In our region, the Indian Ocean Trepang company was a winner from Madagascar, developing a business model that allows farmers to grow and harvest sea cucumbers, providing farmers an additional source of income.
One of the objectives of this forum is to increase awareness about the research and funding opportunities that exist in your fields, recognising that a number of Australian tertiary education institutions are providing joint PhD research scholarships to Mauritian students and I commend them on this initiative. We hope that you will also learn about relevant competitive grant schemes from the Tertiary Education Commission as well as the Research and Innovation Bridges scheme from the Mauritius Research Council or simply learning about research being conducted in Australia or in Mauritius that is relevant for you.
An old proverb says that necessity is the mother of invention, I would add that partnership is the father of innovation. Innovators iterate and combine existing knowledge, technologies and practices until they modify an invention to create something socially or economically viable. In our connected world, many innovators today have to work in partnership across continents and across time zones. We believe that our two countries, as members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, have potential to spearhead partnerships that could result in a vibrant innovation system in our region. Our work together in maritime spatial planning with CSIRO is one example, while CSIRO will also shortly host an international conference on blue carbon in Perth under IORA auspices. Australia – our federal and state governments, researchers and the private sector – are continuing to take a leading role in efforts to understand and manage the response of coral reefs to a changing climate and sharing this knowledge with other countries, including fora like the International Coral Reef Initiative.
This forum is a unique opportunity to connect with high level decision-makers and your peers and explore together opportunities that will lead to benefits for the community. We encourage you to explore all kinds of joint-venture opportunities involving Australian and Mauritian institutions including partners from the region. For example, in the agriculture sector, Australia and Mauritius have longstanding links in the sugar cane industry with new opportunities for research and private sector know-how or “savoir-faire”. Indeed, there could be new areas for collaboration across other agricultural streams like crops, dairy and livestock.
Innovation needs to be socially inclusive, and we support efforts that promote gender equality to make sure every potential innovator has a chance to participate. The under-representation of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects across the region means that there is also a need for a gender-aware approach. This is a focus for the Australian Government and there are more than 200 women studying in these STEM fields in Australia under the Australia Awards, the Government’s flagship scholarships program.
In Australia under our innovation agenda, the Government is supporting initiatives such as Girl Geek Academy, which encourages early participation in STEM by teaching 5-8 years girls to code.
At the end of this Forum, with the support of HE Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius, we will officially launch the Mauritian chapter of the Organisation of Women in Science in the Developing World. And I am pleased that Australian alumni are playing such a critical role in driving this agenda forward. Recognition of women in science is important. Symbols matter. I was delighted that the 2018 Australian of the Year was renowned quantum physicist, immigrant and champion for women, Professor Michelle Simmons. And I am also very pleased that the Rajiv Ghandi Institute continues to partner with Questacon (Australia’s national science and technology centre) and will soon be bringing over the 2016 winner of the Australian Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools, Ms Suzi Urbaniak, as part of a new program with schools here in Mauritius.
Let me conclude my remarks by reiterating that Australia believes in the many forms of innovation – from incremental to disruptive, and everything in between. Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper recognizes that the virtual world, ‘internet of things’ and big data are changing the way we work, socialise, communicate and consume goods and services. The combination of more advanced ICT tools—including artificial intelligence—with other disciplines such as materials technology, robotics, genomics and biotechnology will also drive further innovation, from medical treatments to smarter cities to low emissions energy. New industries and new jobs will be created. And the research required to underpin these innovations will continue to rely on strong partnerships – across industry and academia – and international collaborations.
My team and I are here to create the space for you to come together and identify opportunities. It is now up to you to use this space and innovate!
19 February 2018