Minister for Innovation, Science and industry, Christopher Pyne, and Senator Kim Carr, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Innovation, Science, Industry, Research and Higher Education met on 20 June to debate science and innovation policy at the National Press Club. The debate coincided with the release of Labor’s Science and Innovation policy statement on 18 June.
Minister Pyne highlighted the Government’s commitment to science and innovation with its $1.1 billion investment in the National Innovation and Science Agenda including a range of initiatives such as the Medical Research Fund, a CSIRO innovation fund to support the commercialisation of research and a $250 million Biomedical Translation Fund aimed at turning biomedical research into products and services. Pyne also talked about changing taxes and incentives to stimulate growth and industry including incentives for startups and entrepreneurs.
In line with its recent science and innovation policy announcement, Senator Carr said Labor would restore funding to the CSIRO and university research to drive high-tech manufacturing. He pledged to establish a department of innovation and to reinstate the Sustainable Research Excellence scheme – a program designed to cover the indirect costs of research to ensure that those successful in gaining research grants were not penalised by having to cover the indirect research costs. He said the package acknowledged the importance of university research to Australia’s future national prosperity.
Carr emphasised Labor’s plans for government investment detailing $375m in new science spending across the forward estimates including $44m funding for two cancelled cooperative research centre rounds, $172m in block grant funding for indirect research costs for universities, $57m for Labor’s Collaborative Research Network which aims to link less research intensive universities to major metros and create 20 industrial transformation research hubs, and $76.9m for a new Australian Institute for Biosecurity.
Carr argued that the government had cut programs that the previous Labor government had implemented to build innovative capability. He pointed to the substantial reduction in government expenditure across the board including the $115 million cut to the CSIRO in the 2014 budget as well as cuts to DSTO, the CRC program, ARC, ANSTO, BOM, the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and the Research Training Scheme. Carr has also noted further job cuts currently underway at CSIRO which he says will impact national research capacity in areas including climate science, manufacturing and food security.
A key difference in the NPC debate was that Carr actively talked about research and universities, responsibility for which is included in his portfolio. This contrasts with the Coalition, which has Education and Training as a separate portfolio under Minister Simon Birmingham. This separation has been criticised in the past with university commentators saying knowledge creation and wealth generation by universities highly relevant to industry and innovation and should be within the same portfolio.
See video of the NPC debate here.