Lib plan won’t turn research into dollars

Trying to find the substance in the Abbott Government’s so-called Competitiveness Agenda is like trying to grab a jellyfish.

Two weeks after Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced the Agenda, he and Education Minister Christopher Pyne have released its next instalment, Boosting the commercial returns from research.

This document is as threadbare as the first in its prescriptions for building closer relationships between research and industry, commercialising the results of research, and fostering a culture of innovation.

That is no surprise, because the Abbott Government has already destroyed the means of achieving these goals.

It has ripped $9 billion out of higher education, science, research, innovation and industry programs.

Many of the programs established under Labor’s 10-year national innovation agenda that were specifically focused on research collaboration and commercialisation have been axed or drastically cut back:

  • The R&D Tax Incentive reduced by $620 million.
  • Commercialisation Australia abolished ($242 million).
  • Enterprise Connect abolished ($152 million).
  • Industry Innovation Precincts abandoned ($298 million).
  • The Cooperative Research Centres Program cut by $80 million and its future threatened by a review based on a recommendation for its abolition.
  • National ICT Australia (NICTA) to be de-funded from 2016-17 ($84 million).
  • CSIRO funding slashed by $115 million.
  • Researchers in Business closed.
  • Australian Research Council funding cut by $75 million, reducing funding available for end-user driven research under its Linkage program.
  • Venture capital and clean business innovation programs scrapped.

Almost the entire suite of measures focused on research collaboration and commercialisation is gone.

Now the Government is asking stakeholders to help it put the pieces back together.

But it is giving them only a month to make substantive submissions on fundamental questions, including:

  • the rules for competitive research grants;
  • promoting collaboration using the paper-thin resources left to the sector; and
  • further consolidating the limited range of programs that remain.

Ministers Pyne and Macfarlane have said they’ll process all this input by the end of the year, and will have “identified the policy and programme changes” needed to turn research into commercial outcomes.

In other words, they’ll take just one month to decide how it will replace what it has trashed.

The Government’s approach is so chaotic that it cannot even task one minister to lead its charge. Minister Macfarlane announced the Competitiveness Agenda, but Minister Pyne is responsible for research. And there is no science minister.

The Abbott Government has already shown no interest in doing what is needed to create more value from Australian research. It has left Labor’s innovation agenda in tatters and has no plan of its own other than scrounging savings.

WEDNESDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2014


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