Now is not the time to pause in the fight for increased research funding

Science Industry Australia
By Duncan Jones, Executive Director, SIA
Wednesday, 09 August, 2006

On 10 March 2006, the Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello, announced the Productivity Commission's review of public support for science and innovation in Australia. The Productivity Commission's study will consider all key elements of the innovation system, including research and development, and especially:

  • The economic impact of public support for science and innovation, including impacts on Australia's recent productivity performance;
  • Impediments to the effective functioning of Australia's innovation system; and
  • The broader social and environmental impacts.

Basically, Treasury in Canberra has been asked to determine what sort of bang we get for our buck.

Submissions have closed and the final review is due in the new year.

Given the power that Treasury wields in all matters fiscal it behoves all interested parties to put their very best foot forward and submit their most cogent and compelling arguments as to why not only research should continue to be funded, but that the level of funding urgently needs increasing.

We like to think of ourselves as the 'clever country' and often delude ourselves with the phraseology that "we punch above our weight". Punch above our weight we might, but that punch stills packs the power of a minnow.

Unless the pressure is kept on governments of all levels to commit further, urgently needed resources to research across all disciplines, the rest of the world will only look upon Australia as a quarry, a holiday destination or a place to send their children for an education.

Resource stocks and riding on the back of the current mining boom is a finite pursuit. Ore bodies are decimated and exhausted, resource and commodity prices ebb and flow (often dramatically) as demand changes and the search continues for the next mother lode.

The one infinite resource Australia possesses is that of intellectual capital - our untapped and infinite ability to think, learn and innovate and continue to think, learn and innovate generation after generation.

It is this infinite well of opportunity that research funding stokes the fires of to produce the next blockbuster drug, sunrise industry or even just a better mousetrap.

It is with these thoughts in mind that Science Industry Australia has made a submission to the Productivity Commission.

The science industry is a key enabler of many other industries. It involves research and development, design, manufacture, sale and distribution of laboratory-related goods and services used for measurement, analysis and diagnosis.

Major breakthroughs in medical and scientific research in all disciplines require the best laboratory technology, scientific instrumentation and people skilled in the sciences. Continued government support focused on addressing impediments to the efficient functioning of Australia's innovation system is required to maintain and enhance Australia's international reputation for scientific discovery and innovation, and to generate greater economic, social and environmental returns from Australian investment in research and development and innovation more generally.

To overcome the impediments to the efficient functioning of Australia's innovation system, the science industry recommends that the Australian government:

Encourage universities and PFRAs to increase their focus on developing applied research to the proof-of-concept stage funding by providing the necessary support;

Develop a business case for third stream funding to universities;

  • Implement additional support mechanisms to specifically assist the progression of innovation through pathways other than the formation of start-up companies;
  • Continue its support for commercialisation intermediaries;
  • Extending the eligibility of the Commercial Ready Program to Australian-based subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies; and increasing the turnover threshold limits to between $100 million and $150 million;
  • Redesign its program design and application processes to lower the administrative overhead on industry applicants, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises using as a model the R&D support measures offered by agencies in the United States;
  • Improve the promotion of government industry support offerings;
  • Designate science and engineering as a national priority for concessional HECS;
  • As part of its broader initiatives, harmonise regulation and standards relevant to the science industry across Australian, state and territory governments, and align them with relevant international standards; and
  • Expand the international showcasing element of the International Science Linkages program to enable the continuation of the promotion of Australia's scientific and commercial interests at international events;
  • Support a CSIRO SME engagement strategy; and
  • Introduce a greater range of Action Agenda-based measures modelled on the Industry Cooperative Innovation Program designed to support Action Agenda initiatives.
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