The Innovation Economy

My entrepreneurial life started by learning directly from my parents. My Dad left school early and tried a number of things; he eventually started Cedel toothpaste with a manufacturing base in Laverton. Some of my earliest memories are from primary school where I would buy bagels from the local Glick’s bakery and then resell them from my school locker. From my early teens I would sell whatever I could get my hands on from a stall at the South Melbourne Market. In high school I set up a DJ business and DJ’ed my friends eighteenth birthdays and was earning and partying, while everyone else was just partying. Those experiences embedded in me the ideal of working hard but also of trying different things. It enabled me to buy my first bike, first car and then first apartment.

Perhaps the most successful business I established was a cosmetics company called The Body Collection, an environmentally friendly skin care company that I started straight out of university. From the outset we gave 10 per cent of our profits to the long term unemployed and an additional 10 per cent went into a staff profit share program. All of the businesses that I became involved in were, in some way, vehicles for helping other people. Before I launched The Body Collection, I looked for a charity the business could work alongside and found the Ardoch Youth Foundation that provides support for young people from disadvantaged communities and formed a long-term partnership. Some years later I joined the Board of Ardoch and was later given the honour to serve as its President.

All of the businesses that I became involved in were, in some way, vehicles for helping other people.

Through all these experiences I learned that being an entrepreneur requires having deep beliefs and following through on them. In the late nineties our business took on Pauline Hanson. We were exporting our products into Asia and began to receive requests from some Asian markets to take our ‘Australian Made’ logo off the packaging due to the hurtful remarks towards Asia by Ms Hanson and One Nation. My business became a prominent voice in the media against One Nation’s damaging comments which were hurting trade and the international relationships that many Australian businesses were building internationally.

For today’s entrepreneurs, the opportunities that exist for setting up new ventures are far greater than ever before. The future of work will see many people in not just one full time job, but having a range of roles of their choosing. More people will split their time between their own entrepreneurial ventures and working for others. Through innovations like 3D printing, the means of production will be more collaborative which in turn will enable a more flexible business. A collaborative approach also diminishes the traditional, adversarial roles that parties have played in the workforce, particularly some unions. Too often, in the past, action has been taken for the benefit of union leadership, but not for the workers and ultimately to the detriment of some companies.

One of the biggest stiflers of innovation is government regulation; we’re often a generation behind the world’s innovation hubs.

One of the biggest stiflers of innovation is government regulation; we’re often a generation behind the world’s innovation hubs. One of the things that I’m passionate about is ensuring that Victoria is known as a place to do business in, especially when you look at emerging technologies such as autonomous and connected vehicles. I’d like Melbourne to be known as the connected city. I’d like to enable companies to establish their head offices here and set up R&D facilities…to trial new things with the government encouraging and supporting those efforts.

One of the biggest successes in Victoria, and indeed our biggest export earner, is education. Following years of endeavour from our University sector, we now have alumni working in significant government and private sector positions in Asia who were educated and trained in Victoria. Those people should see us as a strong launching pad to productise ideas and shoot them across some of the world’s fastest growing markets. I don’t think that we’ve seen enough vision and focus around these themes. We need to do more than just supporting the startup ecosystem and funding some innovation labs. Creating the innovation economy has to be embedded in everything we do; through the delivery of all government services and all aspects of government policy!

Energy is a big part of this equation with individuals now having the power to be effectively energy efficient through use of solar panels, batteries and electric or hybrid vehicles. This is an exciting development, but issues emerge when governments try to outstrip the rapid pace of innovation. Where the public and private sector works best is through deregulated markets whereby if a new innovation emerges, we let it compete on a level playing field alongside appropriate consumer protections. Recent governments have been so desperate to pursue renewables, given the environmental and climate change benefits, that they have pushed them ahead of the other available innovative technology. Forcing change can have unintended consequences such as the power security and affordability issues that we are now facing. The interlinkages across the economy can be significant. For example, with an educated workforce we are well placed to be the home of ‘big data’ centres and to do that you need a reliable and secure supply of energy. On the other hand, a lack of energy security stifles investment. When markets are shackled by government interference it’s the State that pays the price.

Recent governments have been so desperate to pursue renewables, given the environmental and climate change benefits, that they have pushed them ahead of the other available innovative technology.

Whenever I consider legislation in the Parliament, I look at how it will either promote or discourage business in Victoria. How will it impact the cost to the consumer or business? Ultimately, will the legislation be a deterrent for investing in Victoria or will it encourage new businesses and job creation. As an entrepreneur and as a Member of Parliament, that is my focus and vision.