Professionals Australia has welcomed the Abbott Government’s Competitiveness Agenda but maintains the need for greater investment in science and the adoption of a national science strategy.
Wednesday, 15 October 2014
Professionals Australia has welcomed the Government’s push to forge links between science and industry; invest in STEM education and establish a new Science Council, as part of its new Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb welcomed the new policy saying that it was about “improving the impact, focus and prioritisation of Australia’s investment in science and research”.
While positive, Professionals Australia’s CEO Mr Chris Walton maintained that the Government’s vision could fail to be realised if it did not provide greater investment in science, or adopt the Chief Scientist’s national science strategy put to Government last month.
“Currently Australia has its lowest rate of government investment in science in 30 years. So while we see many promising elements in this new package of initiatives, we still want to see investment in science at 2.4 per cent of GDP. We believe it is vital to ensure Australia keeps pace globally and is in the top half of OECD countries when it comes to investment in our science future.
In announcing the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, the Prime Minister said that strengthening Australia’s competitiveness was “the key to our future prosperity”.
Mr Walton said that he was ‘very encouraged’ by the Government’s recognition of science and innovation as central drivers of economic growth.
“Australia’s science future rests on three fundamentals: firstly, the science and innovation community need to endorse and support the Government’s Competitiveness Agenda; secondly, the Government needs to fund science at 2.4% of GDP; and thirdly, the Government needs to adopt the Chief Scientist’s national science strategy.
“With these fundamentals in place, Australia has the chance to build a strong and sustainable future for science and the professionals that work in it.
“Scientists across the nation will be looking at the details of this policy in coming days and weeks and await the Government’s response to the Chief Scientist’s national science strategy.
Mr Walton said that he shared the Prime Minister’s belief that science can and should be central to business practice.
“It is clear that there is huge potential for science to underpin emerging industries and transform existing ones. Science is the key to unlocking vast potential in our economy and in turn, creating diverse opportunities for our scientists to work on complex and fascinating challenges.
Industry Growth Centres
Professionals Australia particularly welcomed the Government’s plan to establish Industry Growth Centres in food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and advanced manufacturing sectors.
Industry Growth Centres have been designed to improve collaboration between businesses, scientists and researchers.
“We have for a long time been exponents of greater integration of science and R&D to develop the LNG sector and the advanced manufacturing sector. This policy supports these ideas and we hope that it will help Australia engage in global markets, commercialise new products and generate new jobs.
Each of the five Industry Growth Centres will receive funding of up to $3.5 million per year, commencing from 2015. Over the coming weeks, a series of Competitiveness Agenda stakeholder roundtables will be held across the nation. This will be the first step in consulting with industry and research on the implementation of the Industry Growth Centres initiative.
The Science Council will be charged with developing a strategic and whole-of-government approach to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Mr Walton said that he was “pleased” to see that the Prime Minister will chair the new Commonwealth Science Council, and that it will include the Ministers for Industry, Education and Health as well as the Chief Scientist.
“Mr Abbott’s involvement reinforces the importance of the Council as a key advisory body.
The membership of the new council includes a mix of scientists, educators and business leaders, including:
- Professor Timothy Davis
- Professor Ian Frazer AC
- Professor Nalini Joshi
- Professor Tanya Monro
- Professor Brian Schmidt AC
- Mr Ken Boal
- Dr Michael Chaney AO
- Dr Jackie Fairley
- Mr David Knox
- Ms Catherine Livingstone AO
Mr Walton welcomed the $12 million boost for STEM in schools, particularly the development of greater access to STEM education for minority and disadvantaged groups.
“Attracting the next generation to STEM courses and careers is a key demographic challenge for Australia – we need to ensure the supply of STEM graduates will be sufficient for our science and technology needs in the future. We support any initiative to boost this engagement,” said Mr Walton.
Encouraging industry/researcher partnerships
It is of some concern that the announcement of the Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda has created a level of uncertainty for the CRC Program which has been highly successful in bringing researchers and industry together. Mr Walton said “It’s clear that positioning Australia for a future as a science and innovation leader will rely on getting science and industry working more closely together and boosting commercial returns from research – but with the CRC program creating a net economic benefit of $7.5 billion to Australia, we need to ensure the strength of existing collaborative frameworks are recognised in the transition.”
“While the ambitions and goals of the policy are strong, we still believe that there needs to be much greater Government investment in science if we are to realise the aspirations of this policy agenda and achieve a strong modern economy.
Mr Walton said that science and innovation professionals are increasingly expected to “do more, with less”, as societal expectations grow exponentially for scientific discoveries and breakthroughs.
“We are seeing science workers increasingly shouldering the burden of a sector depleted of funds. This translates into extra unpaid work, short-term contracts, endless grant applications and all the associated problems of insecure work. We need to turn this around, so that our scientists can focus on the remarkable work we need them to do, rather than burning the candle at both ends.
“We all know that you need more than just aspirations to build a strong science workforce. So we maintain our call for greater public funding to ensure our science sector and workforce can achieve the Government’s vision and attract industry investment.
Still the Clever Country?
Professionals Australia advocates to Government on behalf of science professionals. Find out more, visit our Still the Clever Country? campaign page.