Enhancing Australia’s Prosperity
- Dr Stephanie Fahey, Chief Executive Officer of Austrade
- 2017 Australian Institute of International Affairs National Conference on Monday 16 October
- Not checked against delivery
Thanks for the opportunity to join discussion on this topic, Supporting
By definition, it’s something that lies at the very heart of the
organisation I lead.
Austrade’s mission has always been to help increase jobs, income and
overall economic growth in Australia by building markets for its exports
Our network of 83 locations worldwide is an important resource for
businesses looking to identify and pursue commercial opportunities
offshore, especially in the dynamic Asian region.
The challenges we face in today’s rapidly changing trade and investment
climate are more complex than ever.
That complexity, and our response to it, has been a key focus for me since
accepting the job as CEO of Austrade.
To ensure we are fit for purpose as an organisation, I’ve launched several
- Our first Ideas Challenge, giving staff an opportunity to contribute
their proposals for improving the way we work;
- An Austrade Organisational Capability Assessment with recommendations
that we expect to begin implementing very soon; and
- A pulse survey to capture the perceptions of staff about how Austrade is
We are also actively exploring ways to work more closely under the banner
of Team Australia with other organisations like the CSIRO and our
colleagues in Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
Austrade’s structure has already evolved to some extent to reflect the
political, economic and technological upheavals that are shifting the
global trading landscape.
We now have responsibility for attracting productive foreign direct
investment, promoting international education, and developing aspects of
Australia’s tourism policy, programs and research.
Austrade is also exploring new territory, tapping into Australia’s thriving
As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, we’ve established
Landing Pads for start-up enterprises in leading centres of disruptive
innovation: San Francisco, Singapore, Berlin, Shanghai and Tel Aviv.
It’s been a learning experience for us as well as the start-ups we’ve
hosted, many of which do not fit the profile of a traditional Austrade
The structure and trajectory of typical start-up differs markedly from the
companies we’ve worked with in the past.
So our old methods for identifying and qualifying potential clients has
been disrupted, if you like.
Looking ahead, one of the big tasks for us is to better understand and
exploit the subtler connections between the various elements of our
Innovation holds the key to that.
As an organisation we are already innovating and harnessing the power of
new ideas to improve the way we operate.
We’ve known for quite a while, for example, that international trade and
investment are becoming more closely linked.
Global value and supply chains, in part enabled by technology and driven
largely by innovation, have transformed production processes across a range
of industries, including services.
And foreign direct investment is a vital conduit for Australian companies
to access them.
So these two, apparently distinct areas of responsibility – trade and
investment – are not so distinct after all.
I want us to explore the implications of that kind of convergence more
fully, and better understand how our position at the nexus between trade
and investment can be leveraged to benefit the broader economy.
Technology is intersecting with our work in other ways as well. One of the
start-ups we hosted recently in Singapore has produced the first “gamified”
mobile learning platform for tertiary level students, Quitch.
Educational technology, including applications like Quitch, is an expanding
frontier for our world-leading International Education Sector, and will
clearly be an important factor in its ongoing success.
It’s appropriate, then, for Austrade to support not only the development of
edtech but also its uptake.
The latter is especially pertinent given, as our Chief Scientist Alan
Finkel points out, a lot of the value inherent in innovation is embedded in
the way we use technology to produce other goods and services not, in
themselves, considered “technological”, or even particularly advanced.
The use of iron ore, for example, stretches back to pre-history. Yet the
Australian mines that produce it more efficiently and in greater quantities
than anywhere else operate at the leading edge of robotics and automation.
As Dr Finkel argues, they are every bit as advanced as a factory producing
the latest generation of silicon chip, epitomising what he calls “embodied
innovation”, something Australia is particularly good at.
The embodied innovation that underpins our stature as a global resource
exporter also lies behind the success of our Mining Equipment, Technology
and Services sector, which supports resource projects around the world.
Technological change, as we know, brings disruption to established
industries but it also brings opportunities.
Identifying and nurturing other examples of embodied innovation will help
Australia seize those opportunities and I want Austrade to be at the
forefront of doing just that. Our national prosperity depends on it.