If Australia is to use science successfully to drive forward its economy and quality of life we must, as a nation, become much more adept at the science of complex systems (e.g., the human body, the Murray Darling basin system, integrated agriculture, national water systems particularly groundwater, mineral systems and how to explore for them in the covered areas of Australia).
Unfortunately our policy settings, and therefore our funding mechanisms, do not facilitate the effective undertaking and implementation of complex-system science. Given the inherent scientific capability that exists in Australia this represents a reckless waste of potential to drive innovation across a broad spectrum of systems, innovation that would have a massive positive impact on our economy and future.
We also require a change in our cultural attitude to "applied science"; an epithet that is used in Australia to imply a lower quality of science not requiring the focus of our best scientific minds. There is no such thing as applied science, there is only science and applications of science. We need to recognise that science undertaken with the specific intent of an application (where others might make decisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars) demands the highest quality and the best minds.
The UNCOVER initiative (more information is available at http://www.uncoverminerals.org.au/ ) is tackling these issues in the specific domain of mineral exploration. The stated goal of UNCOVER is "To create the scientific knowledge and new technologies necessary to lift the success rate of mineral exploration in the covered areas of Australia to the levels enjoyed 30 years ago in the uncovered areas." The UNCOVER program recognises that this goal can only be achieved through substantial innovation carefully targeted at the real knowledge- and technical-impediments faced by Australia's minerals exploration industry. Hence UNCOVER is operating as a collaboration of 28 industry companies, 9 government agencies, 10 academic institutions, and 5 other influential organisations (e.g. the Australian Academy of Science and the Minerals Council of Australia).
Yet in Australia there is no policy coverage for initiatives of this type. The PolicyHack conference represents an opportunity to redress these kinds of problems in Australia.