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Innovation? The deeds belie the words

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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  1. Margot

    How is this innovative and transitioning to a new economy?
    Energy Resources Growth Centre launched
    24 February 2016
    Joint media release between the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP and the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
    A new Growth Centre established by the Australian Government will drive innovation, competitiveness and productivity across the oil, gas, coal and uranium sectors.
    The Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre, to be known as National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), will promote collaboration and innovation across the energy resources sector.
    Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said the Australian Government was investing $15.4 million over four years in the growth centre.

  2. Kaye Lee

    At the same time they cut $162.9m from Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships programme and $10m from the Office of Water Science research programme

  3. Kaye Lee

    “THE National Farmers’ Federation is going it alone in investing in agriculture’s future after revealing its plans for a multi-million dollar innovation fund.

    The “innovation hub”, called Sprout, will see the NFF partner with superannuation firms and banks to fund agricultural start ups and new agri-technology.

    Its launch at the weekend by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull followed the Federal Government’s $1.1 billion innovation and science agenda, which does not include new funding for agriculture specifically.”


    Typical of Malcolm to be at the launch but to not cough up any money. He’s Tony minus the high vis vest.

  4. Möbius Ecko

    Another great innovation. They changed DSTO to DSTG then took more money away from it.

  5. jim

    This time Australia if you vote this hopeless Liberal party in again and say good bye to reason again we will pay dearly mark my words Vote LNP Last PLEASEEEE.

  6. Jaquix

    Your 3rd last para is so true Kaye – Turnbull’s view of what “innovation” means. An awful lot of the money he has amassed was down to a lot of very good luck – having parents who could send their only child to an expensive private school, receiving an inheritance early in life, contacts smoothed by private school connections, access to Kerry Packer, having property sold to him by Packer (probably under valued), windfall on sale of Ozemail, and so on. Marrying Lucy was about his best personal investment decision. A kid struggling to get good grades at a poorly resourced school is never going to catch up or even get ahead of his peers the way MT did. That doesnt make Turnbull clever, just very, very lucky.

  7. Matters Not

    Innovation? All you need is a good imagination. And someone with deep pockets. What about making rain when there’s not a cloud in sight. Sounds too good to be true? But not for Malcolm with access to our deep pockets.

    But in the second week of the campaign, Mr Turnbull found the time to announce that the Government, already in caretaker mode, would bankroll to the tune of $10 million the investigation of an untried Russian technology that aims to trigger rainfall from the atmosphere, even when there are no clouds.

    It is a decision that raised the eyebrows of water experts around the country.

    Mr Turnbull’s office says there was no breach of caretaker protocol because the project was actually approved before the election was announced.

    The money bankrolls research into a mysterious ionisation technology promoted by the Australian Rain Corporation

    What happened to that money remains a mystery, or at least its location is now hidden from public gaze. Abbott might like to shirt front Malware about this. I think the Russians ‘saw him coming’.


  8. guest

    Kaye, again you have amassed another incredible indictment of the the Coalition. This time, its destruction of Science in this country.

    Innovation? What rot! Why does the MSM not challenge these false assertions?

    On Q&A Frydenberg made strange claims for Direct Action in Paris. No challenge.

    PS. Where in the world is Greg Hunt, anyway?

  9. DisablednDesperate

    The commercialisation of science is one of the worst ideas. We will have no scientists left in this country. How sad.

  10. Matters Not

    For most people who ‘invest’ there’s always the risk that you will lose the lot. After all, about 90% of start ups fail. But what if your ‘investment’ morphed into a loan at exactly the right time and you had a friend in ‘high places’. You wouldn’t believe your luck.

    However, questions are being asked about a highly unusual deal struck in late 2014 between the Turnbull family and former PlayUp chairman and ex-NSW Premier Nick Greiner, which eventually led to Turnbull converting his shares into a loan – secured against all of Revo’s assets, and with an annual interest rate of 12 per cent.

    Sound dodgy? ? And at 12%
    Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/malcolm-turnbull-nick-greiner-and-the-us1-million-loan-20160309-gnf5yr#ixzz43boQmh1s

  11. Kaye Lee

    Emanating from affluent suburbs like Vaucluse, Rose Bay and Watson’s Bay, Malcolm Turnbull’s fundraising group the Wentworth Forum, includes a long list of generous donors including Frank Lowy, Ros Packer, John Simons, and Matt Handbury, chairman and part-owner of the so-called Australian Rain Corporation, beneficiary of the Minister’s funding. Mr Handbury is the wealthy nephew of Rupert Murdoch and chairman and proprietor of Murdoch Books, which is the headquarters for Australian Rain Corporation.

    Turnbull’s department had suggested he give $2 million…he chose to give $10 million.

  12. Miriam English

    Kaye you never fail to amaze me with your well-researched articles. I always look forward to them. I wish there were some writers in the mainstream media with your intelligence. And I wish those who interview Australia’s politicians for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines would bone up on your articles first. We might see some stripping away of that horrible love of lying that so many politicians have. It would be wonderful to see their lies confronted with cold, hard facts.

    Many of the commenters here supply information that leaves me astounded too.
    What a wonderful source AIMN is!

    I hope so very, very much that the Australian people really do judge the LNP government on their deeds and not on the lies they use to paper over their inept, damaging mismanagement of the country. We desperately need to boot Murdoch… er… Turnbull out of office.

  13. Kaye Lee

    Thanks Miriam. I think my family would prefer I did some housework occasionally. Sadly it doesn’t interest me.

  14. Keitha Granville

    It’s all just words, waffle, conference speak – we need stuff ! we need action! we need actual jobs !

  15. Phil

    Excellent article Kaye. The last paragraph skewers Turnbull. The treatment of Australian scientists by his neoliberal government highlights the central importance of raw authoritarianism in the neoliberal governance ethos. The scientists had to be put into their place – to be shown their position beneath the ruling political elites.

    To have scientists forced to grovel and plead for their tenure was all the more satisfying to the Abbott/Turnbull LNP – it proved to the LNP and its blind adherents exactly who is master and who is slave.

    I am disgusted and greatly saddened by the Abbott/Turnbull government for its callous and arrogant indifference toward Australian scientists, their jobs and their families.

  16. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    What I find ironical is Turnbull’s insistence that he wants to support the innovation of Startups.

    His idea of Startups and my idea of Startups or as I prefer Micro Businesses, are two diametrically different concepts.

    He and his pandies assume that Startup people have great brains, great brains and magically enough money already to have developed their concept to a level where they can prove their genius and energy.

    Duh MAL! In the real world, everybody needs money to even get to first base to prove the intelligence of a concept by providing diagrams on paper or digitally. That takes money!

    Patents and patent attorneys and expenses involved are expensive.

    Then, building or overseeing the building or development of a concept necessitates funds.

    And this is just getting a new concept to fruition.

    Next, we need to discuss Sustainable (with a capital S) self-employment and funds for collaborators.

    Stupid, smirky Mal presumes that worthwhile Startups are already operating beyond these initial stages and one can presume they have often enjoyed the necessary funding that lower socio-economic people would not.

    My daughter and her friend have been developing a recycling app called Sustain Me for 1-2 years but as former university students with intermittent and casual incomes, they would not fulfil the elite model that ole Mal presumes.

    I suggested the other day that she/they apply for the Startup funding that ole Mal pretends to have available and despite her ingenuity and initiative, she has found that the funding is so competitive that truly deserving and needy entrepreneurs such as her and her friend would not have a pig’s chance of getting the necessary funding.

    Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation is a shameful abuse of an important word and concept. The LNP takes pleasure in hijacking our language so that our most positive words are poisoned. By misusing our language and restricting our opportunities, he/they undermine our potential.

  17. Matters Not

    When it comes to ‘innovation’, Malware’s flexibility isn’t limited to ‘different ways of doing things’ in the physical sense but extends also to ‘different ways of doing things’ in the moral sense as well.

    A hypothetical: Just imagine an agent advising company X re the best way to hide their precarious (hopeless) financial position (so that it’s ‘saleable’ at the very best price) while that very same agent is advising company Y as to why they should buy company X (without disclosing the ‘real’ state of the books. Imagine that company Y actually bought company X and soon after discovered the reality. They had bought a ‘lemon’. A disaster resulted. Company Y, now over burdened with the accumulated and now acquired debts of company X, goes broke. Bankrupt.

    But remember it’s a hypothetical. Or maybe not.

    Turnbull would become entangled in the collapse of HIH, Australia’s then-second largest insurance company. In December 2000, on the back of bulging debts and marginal solvency, HIH would become the largest in the country’s history, with liquidators estimating losses of up to $5.3 billion. A Royal Commission was established to probe the collapse, and a portion of the inquisition was dedicated to Turnbull, who was the Goldman Sachs head and primary advisor to FAI, an insurance company that HIH took

    It was later revealed that FAI’s assets were grossly misstated, and Turnbull was accused of concealing from the FAI board of directors that he was working with FAI CEO Rodney Adler to take the company private

    Yes Turnbull was cleared by a Royal Commission. Now we all know that Royal Commissions produce only ‘truth’,devoid of bias and the like. Dyson Heydon proved that didn’t he.


  18. Matters Not

    Keitha Granville:

    we need actual jobs !

    Can I beg to disagree? Many, if not most of the ‘jobs’, we have today are ‘soul’ destroying, mindless, alienating, repetitive tasks best done by ‘machines’ or other forms of ‘technology’. A type of ‘mental slavery’ that must be confined to the dustbin of history

    Why are you advocating the above? Is it because you want humans to have the opportunity to ‘externalise’ themselves through their ‘creativity’? Or is it about ‘jobs’ as a source of ‘income’ (and social interaction)?

    Jobs, traditionally conceptualised, are not going to be there in the future. And that’s a good thing. Therefore, the social, economic, emotional and the like ‘needs’ must be reconceptualised.

    The ‘good’ life should be more than working for extrinsic rewards at the expense of internal motivation.

  19. Kaye Lee

    Innovation Coalition style……

    Australia’s top medical research body has given two researchers $3.3 million to study the effects of wind farms on human health despite its own year-long study finding no “consistent evidence” that a problem exists.

    The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) awarded Guy Marks, a professor at the University of NSW $1.94m, to study the health impacts of infrasound – sound waves typically inaudible to humans – generated by wind turbines.

    Peter Catcheside, an associate professor at Flinders University, secured $1.36m to investigate whether wind farms disturb sleep compared with traffic noise.

    “These grants directly support the Australian Government’s commitment to determine any actual or potential effects of wind farms.”


  20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Innovation funding: alright for some.

    I wonder who Guy Marks or Peter Catcheside know in the LNP to be able to access such lucrative funding to research for such controversially questionable studies.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Documents shown to a Senate Committee have shown that cutting 110 staff from the climate division at the CSIRO will save $6.5 million when you take into account the $5 million that will be lost in revenue.


    The government spent $28 million advertising its innovation statement. Add that to the $3.3 million to study the health effects of wind farms and the $615,000 spent on a part-time “wind commissioner”.

    And they want us to believe they are better money managers? Putting a venture capitalist in charge of the CSIRO was a very bad idea.

  22. Matters Not

    Chaplains in schools cost $50,000,000.00 (approx.) a year. ($245 million over 5 years)

    But they are much more ‘useful’, at least in the political sense. ?

  23. Kaye Lee

    Turnbull is going to de-fund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and replace it with a new “Clean Energy Innovation Fund.” using money already allocated to the CEFC. It will cut $1.3 billion from funding and get Turnbull’s new pet-word “innovation” included in a financing scheme. It may also be designed to meet Australia’s Paris commitment to invest “new money” in clean energy innovation.

    But the move may back-fire, because although the new set-up will continue to support near commercial projects, the technologies and ideas at the formative stage of the innovation process may be left stranded, without funding. According to the former chairman of ARENA, Greg Bourne, Australian innovation may move overseas to get the necessary support. So much for the innovation nation.

    Under the new plan hatched by Turnbull and Hunt, ARENA’s grants-based funding strategy will be replaced by “innovative” finance such as debt and equity funding – effectively lending money and buying shares in the investments.

    The new fund will have $100 million a year to invest, but this money will come from funds already allocated to the CEFC. It is being drip fed over 10 years so as “not to overwhelm the market”.

    The long term unallocated ARENA budget – amounting to around $1.3 billion – has been withdrawn.

    One major concern is the future of the “research” component of ARENA, which has been playing a critical role in providing data, information and knowledge on new technologies, such as grid integration, mapping solar and wind resources.

    The Government will also set a target rate of return of one per cent above the government bond rate – compared to the CEFC’s target of 4 per cent above the government bond rate – effectively turning it into a venture capital fund, although one already exists in the form of the Southern Cross Ventures.

    Staff within ARENA are believed to be horrified by the changes, particularly the decision to bring a halt to funding to start-up technologies and research. They say the focus on the new fund, and the need for it to get a return on investment, will effectively rule out a whole category of funding requirements.

    “How many early stage renewable energy projects out there are in a position to one, pay back the money, and give a return on investment,” said one.


  24. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    De-funding ARENA is exactly why Turnbull’s ‘innovation’ concept is a fraud and it only helps the already well resourced and functioning.

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