Macfarlane must provide certainty for Cooperative Research Centres

The release of the Abbott Government’s long-awaited “competitiveness agenda” has created further uncertainty across the science and research sector, particularly for Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs).

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane knows that the CRC program represents an incredible success story of Australian innovation policy. It’s success in linking research with industry – Mr Macfarlane’s rhetorical obsession – is admired the world over. 

A study of the program’s economic, social and environmental impact from 1991 to 2017 found it generated a net economic benefit of $7.5 billion.*

Yet, during yesterday’s press conference, Mr Macfarlane said:

“Some [CRCs] basically have gone off on their own path … having CRCs as an adjunct to [growth centres] just simply won’t work. We’ll be looking at how we bring them into this process. Some CRCs will continue and complete their contracts, some will be folded into this process, and some will terminate.”

[MacFarlane 14 October 2014]

Mr Macfarlane said the government would await the recommendations of the current review in early 2015 before giving more details. But the review is premised on an Audit Commission recommendation that the CRC program be abolished, and Mr Macfarlane has now confirmed that is exactly where it’s headed.

This morning, the CRC Association issued a statement saying it “has been inundated with emails and calls of concern” since Mr Macfarlane’s gaffe. While acknowledging a non-committal ‘clarification’ it has received from the Department of Industry, it goes on to point out all the ways in which CRCs fundamentally differ from the flawed Industry Growth Centres the Abbott Government is proposing.

As the CRC Association prepares to celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary, its members deserve certainty about the future of the program, not vague threats and misrepresentations.

It is clear the Abbott Government has made up its mind to dismantle the CRC program, one way or another. Mr Macfarlane should just come clean and tell the scientists, researchers and the many industry players across all sectors who collaborate through CRCs exactly where they stand.

Tony Abbott asked the science community to judge his government on its actions. Yesterday’s announcement simply reaffirmed that his government’s actions are even more damaging than its rhetoric.

The Abbott Government, with no Science Minister, no science policy, and now a joke of an innovation strategy, stands condemned by its reckless attitude to the CRC program and its massive $9 billion in budget cuts to science, research and innovation.

Far from being a show of support for science, this is just the final proof that Tony Abbott’s heart is not in it when it comes to building a smart, prosperous future for Australia.

* Allen Consulting Group, 2012, The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of the Cooperative Research Centres Program

WEDNESDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2014


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