Speech to Medicines Australia dinner, Tuesday 15 March

I’ve read what you say about yourselves: Medicines Australia drives the creation and development of an environment for the continued sustainable growth of the innovative, research-based prescription medicines industry.

There’s a lot in that sentence: words like drive, creation, sustainable, innovation and research.

Whatever way you read it, your industry has a crucial place in the national innovation system. 

It depends on knowledge. It is research-based. It relies on science.

Your commercial success is driven by advanced manufacturing.

Any successful innovative nation will want to foster that heady mix.

And they do. Governments around the world compete for your investment dollars.

A government wanting to attract investment should be especially concerned with the way tax incentives for research and development affect the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

For sectors with such long commercial lead times, the stability of policy measures designed to foster innovation is absolutely critical.

To date, I think it’s safe to say that Australia has not delivered that stability.

The fact that there is still legislation before the Parliament to cut the R&D Tax Incentive is proof enough.

This is on top of the legislation that has already passed, capping the amount of R&D expenditure that innovative firms can claim at $100 million, which Labor opposed.

While there are some who argue that such measures only affect the big end of town, the people in this room know that diluting R&D investment incentives at one end of the value chain will have consequences throughout the system.

We don’t describe the innovation system as an ‘ecosystem’ for nothing.

One of the many great things about Australia is the willingness of large companies to invest in research organisations, universities and smaller biotech companies.

CSL’s investment in Bio21 is a recent notable example, but there are many others. Take for example:

Johnson & Johnson's Asia Pacific Innovation Centre in Brisbane;

GSK's partnership with the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash; or

The recent deal between Novartis and Melbourne based biotech company, Spinifex – to name a few.

Your industry understands that developing, testing and marketing pharmaceutical products depends on knowledge.

And that knowledge comes from a solid foundation of basic research.

Research that may not have begun with anything like the final product in mind.

Yet the Government’s recent innovation package emphasises immediate commercial applications.

I have said many times that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how research actually works.

It is an approach that cripples effective long-term collaboration between researchers and industry.

Investment in innovation requires policy stability and predictability to help eliminate some of the commercial risks inherent to your industry.

It also matters in times like these when even science sometimes comes under attack.

Last week I heard Professor Ian Frazer talk about the growth of the anti-vaccination movement.

Anti-vaxxers are like climate-change deniers: they are attacking science itself.

We have seen the damage that opponents of climate science have done when they gain influence over government policy.

Fortunately, anti-vaxxers haven’t achieved that clout.

But they are a reminder of the critical role of government, which is to defend the scientific mission and stand up for research-intensive industries like yours.

You know I have done so in the past as a Minister.

And if I am Minister for Innovation, after the coming election, you can be sure I will do so again.

I will be working closely with my colleague Catherine King.

We share a commitment improving peoples’ lives, building innovative capacity and ensuring that tax payers get genuine value for their money.

Thank you.


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