The Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP On An Innovation State That Drives Social Impact

The Hon. Leeanne Enoch, MP, Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business.

The Hon. Leeanne Enoch, MP, Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business.

Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy, and Minister for Small Business Leeanne Enoch won the seat of Algester, in Brisbane’s south, at the 2015 state election.

In doing so, Ms Enoch – a proud Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island – became the first Aboriginal woman elected to Queensland Parliament.

Ms Enoch is passionate about community development and social justice issues, and as a mother to two sons knows how important it is for communities to be digitally connected, with opportunities to thrive in jobs of the future.

Prior to entering politics, Ms Enoch worked with the Australian Red Cross, guiding humanitarian policy and programs to improve the lives of Australia’s most vulnerable. She also spent more than a decade as a high school teacher throughout South-East Queensland and East London.


Minister Enoch discusses the Queensland Government's approach to innovation and social enterprise and shares insights on policy, indigenous issues and preparing young Australians for 21st century challenges.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - Could you please share a bit about your background and the journey you took before entering politics? [2:20]

[Minister Leeanne Enoch] - I've had a life where I've really focussed on service to others. I became a high school teacher and had an opportunity to go and teach in East London where I saw things very differently. I was away for 4 years. When I came back, I saw things in a very different light and I thought that I needed to be involved in some other things. This drove me into policy and program development, then community development. I had an opportunity then to work in various levels of government and Red Cross where again there was a focus on service to others. That's the approach I've taken the whole time. It's all about how I serve the people I represent, whether that be in my electorate, broader community or in the State.

Could you please explain some of the work and initiatives the Queensland Government is doing in harnessing innovation to strengthen and diversify the economy? [3:51]

There's probably a conversation to have about why we're even doing this.

Everyone's talking about innovation and we're hearing that word everywhere. There's nothing new about innovation. As human beings, we've been innovating since the dawn of time.

All innovation is, is turning your ideas into action.

What is new about innovation is our need right now, to have a laser sharp focus on innovation in everything we do. That's because we're in a technological boom. The kind of pace we're seeing around technology and change to the economy globally is outstripping anything that we could have imagined 10 years ago.

It's fair to say that in the next 10 years, we're likely to experience the equivalent of 100 years of change.

That's how fast it's going to happen. So for governments across the world, there is this attention to a sense of innovation to ensure that the economies in each of these countries are able to compete in this new world that we're all building together. For Queensland, we've been absolutely driven to ensure that we can compete on a global level and that my two sons and the kids we're training in our schools have the jobs available to them so that they can continue this incredible lifestyle we have in this state.

This is where Advance Queensland was born. We've got this great legacy in this state as the 'Smart State'. But what many don't realise is that in that time we saw a $4.9 billion investment in research infrastructure. There was a sense that there would be a juncture on the horizon and we needed to be prepared for it. So we had this great research.

What we haven't been so good at has been the commercialisation of these ideas; turning these ideas into action - that's the part that we need to do more work on.

Advance Queensland is really focussed on that space. It is now a $405 million whole of government initiative which has an incredible array of programs designed to look at commercial opportunities in lots of different ways. [Minister Enoch gives more detail about Advance Queensland.]

Prior to government, you worked with the Australian Red Cross for seven years. What particular local issues or problems do you believe we as a society could tackle in a more innovative way? [7:06]

This is the thing about social challenges. They're a little bit different from policy challenges or even some economic challenges.

Social challenges are hairy and difficult and interconnected with each other; sometimes they're like a big plate of spaghetti and you can't pull one out or fix one thing that's going to fix everything else.

This is where the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship really comes to the fore in this; where the strength of that actually has some application. When you see lots of people coming together to be able to address issues (some very complex), what you get is this terrific creativity and different ways of looking at it. There are some very challenging, interconnected social issues around some of our fundamental human needs, such as housing. We're seeing that play out in an economic space. It's not as simple as just building more homes. It's much more complicated. Social Enterprise in particular has some roles to play in that.

In Queensland we're really lucky. This culture that we've been building over the last few years has seen some really interesting players in this space. [Minister Enoch talks about Orange Sky Laundry and the positive work they have been doing.]

Through Advance Queensland, we're supporting some of the social enterprises coming through in programs such as Ignite Ideas, which is all about supporting those ideas which are just about ready to be commercialised. Whether they have a social impact or if they're purely economic with job outcomes, they are all in the mix. Because no matter whether it is a social impact or a direct economic impact, that is a benefit to our state. 

In Queensland we've also been working really hard around this epidemic of Ice. That's a massive social issue and we're trying to find some new innovative ways to tackle that. It takes more than just one person and you can't just have a government agency working on this. You've got to have creative minds and an openness to do things a little differently and tackle these very complex issues.

Community structures are changing and families in some instances are struggling inside of that. [Minister Enoch, talks about her own experience as a child and how communities have changed.]

It's a different community structure that we're existing in today and it means that we have to find new ways to connect and support each other.

It’s clear that our Indigenous population face a number of challenges in Australia. As a proud Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island, could you please share what you believe is one of the most pressing issues for Indigenous Australians and provide some insight as to how we can best look at resolving it? [11:50]

If I could say there was one pressing issue that we could fix, that would be fantastic. There are so many interconnected issues that don't impact every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person of course, but what we see in terms of our connection to land in particular; that is one that will remain a focus for many Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people in their communities.

In terms of land rights, native title, sovereignty, in terms of a treaty; these are things that will remain a constant focus for indigenous communities. 

There are other aspects and we can't look at indigenous communities as one homogenous group. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are very different groups of people and for Aboriginal people, we all come from different countries in this continent. [Minister Enoch speaks about the different cultural differences between different indigenous communities. She talks about how different communities will have different needs.]

Some of the big challenges that the Mayor (of Wujal Wujal) is looking at and that we're working on has been around digital infrastructure. If you're going to be able to create your own jobs (because that's what has to happen - you have to create your own economy), if you don't have digital infrastructure, then that is almost impossible. [Minister Enoch talks about how she is disappointed with the NBN and how it's important for us to find better ways to deliver on digital infrastructure.]

It’s clear that our Indigenous population face a number of challenges in Australia. As a proud Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island, could you please share what you believe is one of the most pressing issues for Indigenous Australians and provide some insight as to how we can best look at resolving it? [11:50] [...continued]

As the economies change, and as they become more and more digitised, if we are not able to fix this issue of digital infrastructure, we will see large groups of people who are already marginalised, further marginalised as a result.

For me, that's where I'm focussed at the moment. I think digital infrastructure is one of our pressing issues, but I know that the issues around sovereignty, treaty and land rights are also things that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to have meaningful conversations with government about.

We’ve seen an increase in awareness about social enterprise, with what seems like a growing understanding and consumer support for purpose driven business. Could you please share some of the big developments in the social enterprise sector in Australia and where you think this is heading into the future? [15:35]

There is a big movement around social enterprise. There are some remarkable, particularly young people, who are very focussed on how they make a difference in the world. Not just 'how do I make money out of an enterprise?' but 'how do I make a difference?' What many of these young people (not just young people!) are doing, is seeing the world and some of the challenges through a completely different lens. They're saying, 'this is fixable and I'm going to find a solution' and then they just drive themselves into this space.

[Minister Enoch talks about Australia being a lucky country but still with challenges and how we are now seeing a much more humanitarian, social filter that we're seeing. She talks about her experience at Red Cross and the experience volunteers would have in giving back.]

I think there will be big changes in the way governments fund in the social enterprise space in the next 5-10 years. I think community organisations will need to be supported to be more in that social enterprise arena.

There will be a different relationship between governments and those that serve our communities. It'll be a while yet, but this is what's bubbling up.

It'll bring some disruption to some of our community organisations.

It'll bring some disruption to what the citizens of this state expect of the government expenditure in this space. It's a pretty exciting time.

We'll see more and more people wanting to connect to others, to feel that healing and growth, to be part of humanitarian agendas and they'll want an economy that actually serves more than just the bottom line.

Looking at social enterprise from a policy perspective, we've seen the Victorian Government take some strong steps in this area, so what do you believe needs to be done by government to help foster and support an innovative and sustainable sector? [19:02]

You're right, the Victorian Government has started to go down a path which everybody is watching. In the Queensland Government, myself and Minister Shannon Fentiman have already been working on what that looks like. We were testing a few things in this space because particularly in the human service part of government service, there is a sense that we can look at this a bit differently. [Minister Enoch talks about how the Department of Housing have had an initiative around dignity and housing and how they've put out a challenge out to the community. The Minister also talks about how this has been working in the government's work with Seniors.]

We're testing these things as we start to firm up what it is we will be doing in the social enterprise space.

You've got to take some time to test, see where there might be some strengths, see where we might need to make some different views again about that and then start to forge the way forward.

Internationally, which countries do you believe are really leading the charge when it comes to social innovation, and what can Australia and other nations learn from them? [21:12]

Where you've got the greatest challenges is where social enterprise is having some impact.

Often it's people in developed countries who are then able to take an entrepreneurial/innovation approach to the challenges of other countries and they're able to create some social enterprise around that. When you look at Thankyou Water for instance, it was really about ensuring they could create wells in other countries for people to have clean drinking water. It's being able to use this market to support the issues of other countries. What we're seeing is, where the major challenges are is where we're seeing some really interesting social enterprise happening and we're able to use the markets of other countries to support that.

You spent more than a decade as a high school teacher, working in a number of schools in South-East Queensland and in East London. What are some of the key challenges you believe young Australians are facing and what can we do to help prepare them for 21st Century challenges? [22:43]

We're living in a time of rapid change. The kinds of jobs my sons will be inheriting or creating in the future will be very different from what I was inheriting 20-30 years ago. When I was in my final year of school in 1985, it was a very different world to school in 2017. And the kinds of skills we needed were very different.

For schools we've got to focus on the kinds of skills they're going to need and the pipeline of workers that we're going to need for the industries we're creating to ensure that we have jobs here. That's why our Advancing Education strategy has been focussed on robotics, coding, being able to analyse data, because that's where the jobs are going to be into the future.

We've got to think a bit differently about how we train our young people and teach them to be entrepreneurs and take an entrepreneurial or computational thinking approach to the world that they will be leading.

They will be the people who will be creating the new industries 10-20 years from now and we need them to look at problems in very different ways. What we don't want is our kids to only be the consumers of products, we want them to be the creators of that. For my sons, I'm constantly onto them about STEM in particular. But I call it ESTEAM: Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, because you need the creativity, you need the core STEM skills but you also need to have some entrepreneurial skills to understand that where you see the opportunity to be able to turn things into potentially your job or business, but also potentially to solve some major social and climate issues that we're already looking at right now.

To finish off, could you please recommend a few useful books or resources to our listeners that you find inspiring? [26:13]

[Minister Enoch discusses the books below, but particularly encourages people to read autobiographies of great leaders because she says it's in the strength of their stories that we'll see some really interesting ways of how we create our own story into the future.] 


Recommended books


You can contact Minister Enoch on Twitter, LinkedIn or facebook. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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