Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israel’s Chief Scientist visits Australia

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"Innovation" is a major policy priority for the Turnbull Government, and it is expected to launch its new statement on the subject this month.  Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy recently said that the new policies would be "a complete game changer for our country".

Therefore, the timing was perfect for Israel's Chief Scientist Avi Hasson, employed by Israel's Ministry of Economy, to travel to Australia on his first official visit.

It is clear that many leading Australians in both business and politics have a high regard for the Israeli innovation culture and policies, with many recent articles appearing in the Australian media noting that Israel is a leader as a "start up nation", and many politicians and industry leaders having travelled to Israel to bring back lessons on innovation relevant to Australia. For example, Mr. Roy, who recently led a trade-mission to Israel (see earlier blog post), told the Australian: "There are a number of things we can learn from them [Israel]: how they attract capital for investment in innovation, their culture of collaboration and risk taking and how they educate people not just with core computing skills but also the entrepreneurial spirit."

Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist has an "MNC [multinational companies] program" that provides a unique framework for technological cooperation between Israeli companies and multinational corporations.  As Jewish Business reports:

"According to the agreement, the Chief Scientist helps multinational companies scout for Israeli technologies meeting the corporation's needs and provides financial support for completing necessary R&D. The multinational corporation supports the joint project with matching funds - either via investment or by lending equipment, providing technological and regulatory consultation, marketing directions, etc. In this manner, the corporation helps the Israeli company grow and opens it options in markets abroad."

On Mr. Hasson's arrival in Australia he was greeted with much fanfare with photos of his meetings circulating on social media, and his visit receiving significant media coverage (see here, here and here).  Mr. Hasson met with a number of senior leaders including Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, Minister of Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy MP, Premier of NSW Mike Baird, Incoming Chair of Innovation Australia Bill Ferris, and Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox.

Mr Hasson was in Australia for a joint investment summit aimed at strengthening the technological and scientific relationship between Israel and Australia, which was hosted by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with support from the Israel Trade Commission in Sydney. During the week-long summit, Mr. Hasson signed a number of agreements to boost research and business ties including an MNC agreement with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Australia's largest bank, whose assets are valued at $115.4 billion.

Israel has similar agreements and R&D funds in partnership with 60 countries including the US, Canada, Singapore and South Korea.

The memorandum of understanding between Mr Hasson and CBA will allow the bank to access emerging technology from Israeli start-ups and to use the Office of the Chief Scientist to tap into the community of technology companies in areas of interest to the bank.

Commenting on the CBA agreement, Mr Hasson said:

"This is the first multinational Australian corporation joining Israel's program of collaborating with multinational corporations. This testifies to the program's global nature and its benefits even for companies from distant countries, especially those that do not yet have a permanent presence in Israel. In addition, this is the first bank joining the framework. The Australians were impressed with the program's value and its potential contribution to banks and the financial industry in general."

CBA's chief information officer David Whiteing stated that the bank would initially seek to collaborate with start-ups working on cyber security and big-data analytics.

Israel and Victoria also relaunched VISTECH, an R&D cooperation program that will fund joint projects.  The summit also included a start-up competition featuring six Israeli and six Australian companies, and panel discussions on topics including financial technology, cyber-security, cloud infrastructure, e-health and agricultural technology.

Reflecting on his visit to Australia, Mr. Hasson remarked, "This visit is clearly a testament to the high regard Australia has for the Israeli innovation economy. A number of Australian government and trade delegations have visited Israel in recent months, focusing on lessons from the ‘Startup Nation' in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship."

Regarding Australia's new approach to innovation he said, "Australia should be excited," adding "Your government gets it, I can tell you that. From the PM and ministers, there is an understanding and commitment [to innovation policy reforms] ... execution is now the key."

On the issue of how to prepare the next generation for the innovation economy, Mr Hasson offered some advice, which appeared in the Australian.  He suggested that in light of declining interest in science amongst students, the solution lies in bringing together science and entrepreneurship as one path to success.  He said that in Israel academics in universities were encouraged to exercise a level of business acumen to commercialise quality research.  For example, he said, "In Israel, the Technology Transfer Offices are a great asset in that respect. They sit in the universities and their mission is commercialisation and they educate the young scientists."

Meanwhile, Family First Senator Bob Day, who also attended a briefing with Mr Hasson, has called for a free trade dialogue with Israel.  The SA Senator told Parliament:

"Israel outranks Australia on the Bloomberg Global Innovation Index. We have free trade agreements with the countries occupying 1st (Japan), 2nd (South Korea) and 6th (USA) places...

"Israel has an outstanding record for tech start-ups and innovation and with its ‘Silicon Wadi', my home state of South Australia knows very well how innovative Israel is. We adopted their drip irrigation technology decades ago to substantially reduce our salinity in the Murray River, and to radically improve the food production per megalitre of water applied to our crops.

"I was also staggered to learn that Israel has mastered desalination now to the extent that they can produce drinking water at a third of the cost of what SA Water are currently doing it. Why not embrace Israel to help us save money and better use technology?"

Senator Day said he looked forward to a feasibility study into a Free Trade Deal with Israel being completed within the next six months.

Sharyn Mittelman


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