Growing the Australian science industry

Science Industry Australia
Monday, 08 November, 2004



The Science Industry Action Agenda is a joint initiative of Science Industry Australia Inc. (SIA) and the Commonwealth government, aimed at maximising the future growth and development of the science industry in Australia. The SIA is the peak industry body that promotes the interests of more than 80 leading suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, manufacturers and exporters of scientific laboratory products.

The science industry has been defined as 'R&D, design, production, sale and distribution of laboratory-related goods, services and intellectual capital used for measurement, analysis and diagnosis in education, research and a wide range of industries'. The SIA also seeks to build bridges with the large public domain research sector in Australia with a view to increasing the commercialisation of laboratory-related technologies emerging from these research entities.

The Science Industry Action Agenda has just concluded a major Industry Mapping Study based on data collected through an electronic survey initiated by the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources (DITR). All identified suppliers of scientific products plus more than 1600 suppliers of technical services such as consulting laboratories, assay laboratories etc were invited to provide information on markets for science products and services, the industry's capability, labour supply, research and development and other factors affecting industry efficiency.

Minister Peter McGauran, who said, "It is an exciting opportunity for the science industry to measure itself against international standards and gain vital statistics on the domestic market", launched the study. It is expected that study results will be available to the Science Industry Action Agenda team and contributing companies during October.

The government's industry action agendas combine the expertise of industry and government to identify impediments to growth, harness competitive advantage and maximise opportunities for the development of the target sector. More information on individual action agendas can be found at: http://www.industry.gov.au/agendas. The Science Industry Action Agenda is the latest development that builds on the federal government's $5 billion Innovation Action Plan, Backing Australia's Ability. It follows closely the recent mapping exercise of Australia's science and innovation system.

How does it work?

Science Industry Australia, through its member companies and beyond, invites participation by the broader industry to work closely with government and other stakeholders to assist in the creation of a development plan for the science industry.

In February this year, the Minister for Industry, Tourism & Resources, the Hon Ian Macfarlane MP and the Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Peter McGauran MP appointed a Strategic Industry Leaders Group (SILG) to initiate activities and coordinate the development of the Science Industry Action Agenda. The SILG is chaired by Emeritus Professor Chris Fell AM and supported by a secretariat drawn from DITR and DEST. It is studying industry capability and working together with people drawn from representative sector companies and organisations to develop strategies for improving Australian science industry competitiveness.

Currently there are four working groups, each led by a member of the SILG. They are studying:

  • Market development and market access;
  • R&D commercialisation;
  • Distribution, and technology services; and
  • Education, training and work practices.

Mr Tony van Staveren, president of the SIA, said, "Achievement of action agenda status for the science industry will become a unifying factor between government, industry and the Australian research and innovation community. The government is investing in science for our future and this new initiative is a strong catalyst for lifting the profile, importance and outputs of the science industry. The deliverable outcomes from the action agenda will enhance Australia's economic wealth, create job opportunities and enhance the quality of life for all Australians."

Mr van Staveren said that there was a reasonable expectation that the action agenda would see a significant increase in the commercialisation opportunities available to Australia's scientists and that positive benefits would be available to all companies which embrace the initiatives that will flow from the action agenda development and implementation.

"I call on all companies and research entities within the science industry whether they are researchers, importers, distributors, manufacturers, exporters and supply chain or service providers, to work with the Action Agenda Strategic Industry Leaders Group and its various committees to develop a stronger industry in Australia. The technology transfer, licensing, manufacturing, export and distribution opportunities offered by the Australian research community are comprehensive."

The make-up of the SILG committee sees top public domain researchers cooperate with local and multinational industry participants to develop greater opportunities for the industry. The CSIRO, CRCs, Knowledge Commercialisation Australia, Australian Proteome Analysis Facility, universities and state government personnel serve on SILG or one of the four working groups.

The four working groups have each met four times and are each developing issues papers and recommendations to go to SILG for action and follow-up by government and other parties during the 24 month implementation phase of the action agenda. It is hoped that the Science Industry Action Agenda report will go to the federal government and subsequent cabinet review in March 2005. It is expected that various industry impediments will receive remedial treatment by government during the implementation phase.

The Market Development Working Group is working on:

  • Understanding overseas markets
  • Trade barriers
  • Government assistance
  • Product quality

The Education and Training Working Group is considering:

  • Industry skills
  • Training issues
  • Exporter education

The Distribution and Technical Services Working Group is investigating:

  • Regulatory and compliance issues
  • Industry linkages, cohesiveness and marketing
  • Reputation
  • Purchasing and e-commerce

The R & D Commercialisation Working Group is working on:

  • Funding mechanisms
  • Access to information
  • Intellectual property issues
  • Mentoring and start-up assistance

Much of the strength of the Australian science industry today is directly traceable to the successful commercialisation of government-funded basic research going back as far as the 50s and 60s.

The action agenda wishes to work to facilitate a new range of research commercialisation options. To this end, the SIA has applied for federal government assistance to support a six-state 'R&D Technology Diffusion Symposia' tour that will lead to a greater degree of cooperation between mainly public domain research entities and the commercial side of the science industry.

Each one-day symposium will see contributions from, and involvement by, leading local and international supply companies, universities, CRCs, research institutes, venture capitalists, etc.

At the end of each session, valuable linkages and partnering arrangements will emerge that give the science sector an important opportunity to tap into the vast array of intellectual property resident in Australia's public domain research entities. An increase in licensing arrangements is another likely outcome of the series.

The SIA has also concluded government funding that will see them take up to 18 emerging technologies and/or young companies to PITTCON 2005 in the USA in February next year. Many of the technologies to be displayed are still under development in Australia's research laboratories.

Further details on the Science Industry Action Agenda are available from the SIA at www.scienceindustry.com.au or the DITR website accessible at www.industry.gov.au

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