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Start made to make Melbourne biotechnological innovation centre

Former Victorian Premier John Brumby discusses The McKell Institute’s Bio-Savvy report in an opinion piece for The Australian. 

Start made to make Melbourne biotechnological innovation centre

In my early days as treasurer of Victoria I read a book by Richard Florida called The Rise of the Creative Class. In it he wrote that ­because of a range of global ­factors, developed economies would come to rely increasingly on creative individuals who could apply fresh thinking to problems, ­develop new products and ­services, and create value in a post-industrial society. “Creati­vity,” wrote Florida, “is now the decisive source of competitive ­advantage.”
If this is right then our universities are more important than ever. Next week I’m participating in a public seminar on how Melbourne’s tertiary education institutions can help to shape the city’s future, and it’s an important conversation when universities and cities are finding their place in the emerging global economy.
The fact is that Melbourne is a university town. The University of Melbourne was founded in 1853 — just two years after Vic­toria became a separate colony, and a year before the State ­Library and the first town hall were built.
Today Melbourne boasts a large number of world-class tertiary education institutions — Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and La Trobe, to name just a few — all within easy reach.
We can’t afford to be complacent. The imperative now is for our universities to become even larger players in their local environments and to find new ways of contributing to metropolitan and regional growth and renewal.
As the mining boom fades, Australia needs to increase productivity, work smarter and tap deeper into our human resources. As the global green economy ­advances, Australia must find ways to be more efficient and to do more with less. Governments at all levels have a role to play in this.
But cities are in a particularly good position to transform themselves into ecosystems of inno­vation — if they can form creative partnerships with the best minds in their local universities and other tertiary institutions.
Brookings Institution scholars Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley have written, in relation to the US, that “cities and metropolitan areas are becoming the leaders in the nation: experimenting, taking risks, making hard choices, and asking forgiveness, not permission”. This sounds like the kind of environment you find at a good university and indeed some of the most innovative and prosperous cities in the world have been driven by their university culture.
In the 1960s Cambridge University created the “Cambridge Cluster” to “put the brains of Cambridge University at the disposal of industry”. Cambridge is now Europe’s largest technology hub, employing 57,000 people. And of course we’re all familiar with the role Stanford University played in the technology boom that transformed Silicon Valley.
I’m particularly excited to be the inaugural chairman of a new $80 million partnership between Melbourne and Monash universities. It’s called BioCurate, and it exists to guide discoveries and ­developments from local biomedical researchers through the valley of death that often exists between the laboratory and the market.
A recent McKell Institute report into the Australian biotech sector said: “As a scientific field of endeavour, biotechnology is equivalent today to where personal computing was in the 1980s: sitting on the precipice of exponential growth.”
With the right investments and collaborations, Melbourne could become a global centre of biotechnological innovation and commercialisation — a new Silicon Valley.
Cities are by no means the only piece of the future growth puzzle. Regional centres, too, will become more and more important as population growth requires decentralisation and more rural and regional development. But the concentrated creative energy of cities has always been a major driver of growth and innovation — and with even closer engagement with their tertiary education institutions they can continue to be.

John Brumby is a Melbourne Enterprise professor at the University of Melbourne and a vice-chancellor’s fellow at Monash University. Melbourne Global Univer-city: Educating Our Future will be held at Melbourne Town Hall next Monday, November 28, at 6pm.