Malcolm Turnbull has tried to differentiate himself from the negative rhetoric of the Abbott years by saying ‘innovation’ a lot and telling us all there has never been a more exciting time to be _______ (fill in the blank).
Mr Turnbull has also pointed to his “comprehensive innovation agenda” as a policy change from the Abbott government.
He welcomed us to the “ideas boom” with his National Innovation and Science Agenda:
“Industry-research collaboration is a key factor to more profitable, sustainable and export-focused industries. However, Australia consistently ranks poorly among OECD countries for industry-research collaboration. The National Innovation and Science Agenda is encouraging our best and brightest minds to work together to find solutions to real world problems and to create jobs and growth.”
Reasonable words which ring very hollow in light of the actions of this government.
In the 2014 budget, $845.6m of Industry support and innovation programs were cut over 5 years including:
- Australian Industry Participation
- Commercialisation Australia
- Enterprise Solutions
- Innovation Investment Fund
- Enterprise Connect
- Industry Innovation Precincts
- Textile, Clothing and Footwear Small Business and Building Innovative Capability
- Clean Technology Innovation Program
- Green Car Innovation Fund
- Establishment of an ICT-enabled research laboratory
- Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund
- National Low Emission Coal Initiative.
The government, through its minister for science, claimed that the 2015 budget reflected a strategic aim to “create stronger connections between research and industry and maximise Australia’s competitiveness”.
This was an extraordinary statement from a government that had not only slashed funding to the CSIRO over the past two years, but cut its key university-industry program, the Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) program, by A$80 million in 2014 – or around 20% – and then a further A$27 million in 2015.
According to Turnbull
“Innovation is about new and existing businesses creating new products, processes and business models. It is also about creating a culture that backs good ideas and learns from taking risks and making mistakes.”
Of the 104 bills introduced by the Coalition since the September 14 leadership change (79 of which were Abbott policies), the Turnbull government’s only legislative contribution to innovation has been one bill designed to improve tax incentives for early stage investors.
“The Government has announced that it will introduce a tax incentive for startup investors which will provide concessional tax treatment for investments made in qualifying innovative startup companies with high growth potential.”
Somewhat ironically, the Innovation Statement calls for “initiatives to encourage greater gender equity in STEM-based industries and institutions” – a requirement that apparently does not extend to conservative political parties.
It also states “We will provide long-term funding certainty for cutting-edge, national research infrastructure. This will help to ensure our best and brightest researchers have jobs and stay in Australia; and that we retain our world-class science and research capability.”
We have laboratories and equipment lying idle because of the drastic cuts this government has made to research funding and the uncertainty about the future. Remember Christopher Pyne’s threat to cut university research funding unless they agreed to fee deregulation? Blackmail is such an ugly MO.
So flabbergasted were the international science community, they sent a letter to the government pleading with them to restore funding as we see crucial research abandoned and our best researchers having to go overseas to get funding (or becoming the advertising agents for private enterprise who wants to sell more cat food).
If the Coalition had provided long-term planning and funding certainty for the NBN then we would be well on the way to having a FttP network.
Turnbull says they are investing in defence industry technology but the 2014 budget cut $120 million from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).
Little has changed with the new leadership team.
Scott Morrison’s December 2015 MYEFO cut $20.8 million from the Higher Education Participation Programme (HEPP) – a program that supports disadvantaged students to succeed at university.
It also showed that industry R&D tax incentives are not creating the anticipated returns with expected revenue written down by $1.8 billion over the four years to 2018-19. They have not been effective in lifting Australia’s low rates of collaboration between industry and the research sector.
Sydney University’s Professor John Rice said:
In politics, scientists are urged to be statesperson-like, play the game and talk to such positives as can be found in the latest two budgets. Indeed there are those who have risen to that call, praising small mercies through clenched teeth.
But the message for science from these budgets has to be that we’re on our own. Both the budgets and budget replies show the paucity of understanding and strategic thinking in regard to science.
The public and the politicians don’t get a very strategic view of science. It is a bionic eye, a cure for cancer, a new exoplanet, quantum computers, nanomaterials etc. Science doesn’t make such a big thing about its synergies with engineering and IT, with the social sciences or with business and innovation. It somewhat takes these connections for granted.
[We must] build priority for science in the minds of the public and politicians. Perhaps these last two budgets will be an inspiration for scientists to put more energy into this task. Clearly no-one else will do it for us.
Because Malcolm Turnbull’s experience in life has been accumulating money through investment, this is how he views the world. Innovation to him means giving businesses more money, encouraging entrepreneurs, and protecting investors from financial loss from risky ventures. Researchers are only there to serve commercial needs.
Tony Abbott said he expected voters to judge them by their deeds rather than their words.
I hope they do.
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