The Government’s Innovation Plan

December 14th, 2015
The Australian government are getting excited about the future, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing a $1.1 billion plan to promote business-based research, development, and innovation. The new plan will attempt to kick-start an "ideas boom" by strengthening ties and communication between the business community and academia. With millions of dollars flowing into the CSIRO, new tax incentives, and changes to insolvency laws, the new Prime Minister is seeking to stimulate growth from the inside-out.

According to Prime Minister Turnbull as he announced the plan, "What is going to drive Australian prosperity in the years ahead? How does our economy transition? Our innovation agenda is going to help create the modern, dynamic 21st century economy Australia needs... Unlike a mining boom, it is a boom that can continue forever, it is limited only by our imagination, and I know that Australians believe in themselves, I know that we are a creative and imaginative nation."

Key initiatives of the plan include a $15m commitment towards a $200m CSIRO Innovation Fund, $30m towards a Cyber Security Growth Centre, and $75m towards the CSIRO's data research arm Data61. The government will also allocate $10m over four years to the Biomedical Translation Fund and offer $106m in tax incentives for "angel" investors in an effort to promote new ventures. $36m is going towards the Global Innovation Strategy, making it easier for Aussies to take their ideas overseas.

With Australia already ranking 17th out of 141 countries in the 2015 Global Innovation Index, some people think this money could be better spent elsewhere. A detailed look into the Index proves otherwise, however, with Australia performing very well in some areas and very poorly in others. For example, while Australia is number one in the world for "how long children stay in school" 'and "printing and publishing output manufacture", it is a lowly 61st for "cultural and creative services exports" and 69th for "government spending on secondary eduction, per pupil".

High-tech industries, computers, and information technology indicators are all struggling in Australia, which ranked 77th for "graduates in science and engineering", and 78th and 79th respectively for "communications, computer and information services", imports and exports. The government are aware of these issues, with falling maths and science standards being directly addressed through a $48m Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) literacy program, $14m being used to encourage women and girls into the sector, $51m allocated to "digital literacy" programs, and money also set aside to help students in years 5 and 7 learn computer coding.

Feedback around the plan has not been all positive, however, with CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski saying: "We're concerned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's definition of innovation may be overly focused on marketing and creating investment opportunities rather than the actual science that should underpin those opportunities. Without the discoveries and inventions that Australian scientists work so hard to deliver, the idea of an Australian 'ideas boom' will ring hollow."

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