Queensland - The Smart State

1 Jan 2015

By Adjunct Professor The Honourable Dr Peter Beattie, UQ alumnus and former Premier of Queensland

The world is changing. Financial services firm Goldman Sachs predicts that in the near future, China, Brazil and India will become the dominant global suppliers of manufactured goods and services; that Brazil and Russia will lead the world production of raw materials; and that India's economy will surpass the United States' by 2050.

To remain competitive, developed countries must focus on commercialising brain power. Knowledge is power, and it is also a generator of wealth, jobs and a better quality of life. Knowledge-based economic activities now account for 50 percent of long-term economic growth in advanced industrial countries.

If we focus on our universities as a basis for economic growth we can change the economic equation predicted by Goldman Sachs. One of the most important relationships therefore must be the collaboration between universities, government and private industry, as this forms the heart of innovation, growth and jobs.

Related to Queensland, the available knowledge, perspectives and approaches to the future of the state have begun to shift. Queensland produces half of Australia’s raw coal, but one third of its economy actually stems from knowledge-intensive industries, so it is important to have strategies that align Queensland and Australia with the global economy.

In 1998, the Queensland Government initiated the Smart State strategy, broadly covering areas such as creative industries, engineering and nanotechnology, with a vision that knowledge-based industries would account for 50 percent of all business activity across Queensland by 2025.

Key objectives included diversifying the economy, improving quality of life and increasing the number of higher paid jobs, with a clear understanding that knowledge, creativity and innovation is crucial to achieving these goals.

Now and in the future, the commercialisation of brainpower through university research in partnership with the private sector will become an increasingly significant part of economic activity and drive the world’s economic future.

Between 1998 and 2007, the Queensland Government invested $3.4 billion in science, research and innovation, combining the strengths of infrastructure, human capital, research programmes, and industry incentives. The Atlantic Philanthropies foundation also invested up to AUD $250 million in Queensland which helped leverage government investment and transformed biomedical research in the state. One of the key benefactors of this investment was UQ – funding projects to build the Aistralian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), and the Mary Emelia Mayne Centre housing The University of Queensland Art Museum.

As a result of government investment, Queensland went from being overlooked, to a magnet for scientists, and in this time Queensland’s knowledge-intensive industries grew by over 40 percent, with UQ one of the major contributors to this growth.

Furthering the efforts of the Smart State strategy, the Translational Research Institute, currently under construction and a joint venture between UQ's Diamantina Institute, Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Mater Medical Research Institute, and the Princess Alexandra Hospital's Centres for Healht Research, is Australia’s newest and most comprehensive scientific research and biopharmaceutical facility.

The institute was the vision of Professor Ian Frazer and is share-funded by the Federal Government and The Atlantic Philanthropies, bringing together more than 600 researchers who are working to discover, produce, clinically test and manufacture new biopharmaceuticals and medical treatments, enabling Queensland to better compete in the global market of medicine and treatment therapies.

Philanthropy has been, and will continue to be, an extremely important part of Queensland’s and UQ’s journey, both in creating new opportunities for research, development and growth, and in creating sustainability for a local knowledge-based industry.

With the drive to become a Smart State, Queensland’s university officials, scientists, and philanthropists have learned some lessons that will benefit other governments interested in nurturing knowledge economies, and by working together, each of these contributors has become smarter in understanding the journey from ideas and research to the global marketplace.

UQ’s enormous research capacity is vital to Queensland’s future, as it is one of the finest research universities in the world, and its global research collaborations put us on the world stage.

Some of UQ’s recent research highlights include Professor Ian Frazer’s commercialisation of the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine; UQ’s partnership with major industry players to develop a business case to construct a $30-50 million biofuels facility in Mackay, in partnership with Mackay Sugar, Boeing, Amyris, GE, IOR and Virgin to produce diesel and aviation fuel; and the University’s work with the US Navy to use oilseed-based jet fuels for their aircraft and ships in a global “Green Fleet” to be powered by alternative fuels by 2016.

Our research institutions and companies are ready to partner on further clinical trials in drug development, alternative fuels, clean coal technology, education services, sustainable building design, environmental management, water conservation, efficient transport systems, and agriculture biotechnology for crops and animals.

The Dow Chemical Company recently announced its commitment of $10 million over the next six years to partner with The University of Queensland to establish the Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation. The newly established centre will pursue a program of research and collaboration aimed at harnessing solutions designed to confront the big sustainability challenges of the 21st century.
We must keep this momentum going by continuing with our smart initiatives, excellent facilities and funding opportunities. We are attracting and developing some quality research and we must have our eye on global long-term strategies and outcomes if we are to continue to build a knowledge-based future.

Although long-term planning can be a challenge, Queensland must maintain its vision for the future, which must be built with the needs of people and the world at centre stage.