The Labor Opposition has reacted to the Innovation and Science Australia 2030 Strategy paper released this week calling it a “piecemeal” plan and slamming the Turnbull government for turning away from the innovation agenda announced in 2015.
Labor digital economy shadow Ed Husic and shadow industry minister Kim Carr where quick to slam the government’s innovation chops following the ISA report’s release this week.
In a joint presser the Labor said the ISA plan did not deliver on the reform promised by the Turnbull government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda in 2015.
“The release of Innovation Science Australia’s 2030 Strategic Plan highlights the failure of Malcolm Turnbull to invest in policies crucial to Australia’s future prosperity,” the joint statement said.
“The Plan does not deliver the comprehensive reform envisaged when the Turnbull Government announced NISA.
“Instead, the 2030 Strategic Plan offers piecemeal measures that tinker at the edges, in an attempt to minimise the impact to the Liberals’ budget bottom line.
“In the meantime our digital economy is being choked of talent and the ISA 2030 report highlights that – relative to other countries – we’re still not attracting enough young people into STEM studies,” the statement said.
In an interview with InnovationAus.com, Mr Husic said the plan itself was a worthy one but doubts whether the Turnbull government has the commitment to follow through on the ISA plan, or other innovation related government reports such as the Finkel 3F report.
“It’s an important contribution, a lot of thought has gone into it,” he said.
“These are the things that should be used by policy makers to take concrete steps to deal with the issues that have been raised.”
“My big concern is that despite all the great work it really is dependent on commitment out of the Turnbull government to transform it into reality,” he said.
In one of its graphs, the ISA report highlights problems with R&D investment in Australia. The OECD chart compares national expenditure as a percentage of GDP for 2015.
While government expenditure on R&D at 0.9 per cent of GDP is quite healthy and puts us on equal top ranking with OECD nations Korea, Germany and Singapore, the level of business R&D investment was comparatively poor.
Australia ranked ninth with a figure of one per cent of GDP, less than a third of Israel and a half of that ploughed in by US business.
Mr Husic said he found that the R&D tax incentive program was popular with small business and startups and the R&D investment fault probably lay with larger local business and multinationals.
“When I saw that stat about business R&D and I thought about the popularity of the R&D tax incentive with smaller businesses, something didn’t resonate.
“When it comes to bigger business I start to wonder about multinationals here, where the lion’s share of R&D is done elsewhere,” he said.
“Multinationals don’t commit to R&D here. I wonder how much that plays into that stat. It’s why I have been calling for tech players in particular to lift their profile here and invest in the nation.
“In the absence of leadership at a Federal level to press the case there is nothing [in it] for them to do it,” Mr Husic said.
As for local large businesses, Mr Husic said Australia cannot afford to be a “laggard” in a global competition where business was applying digital smarts to every process.
“I think there is a generational challenge with (older) business leaders. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a view that you can just take someone else’s hard work off the shelf from somewhere else on the planet. It’s not good enough,” Mr Husic said.
In an interview with InnovationAus.com, Senator Carr was less generous than Mr Husic in his overall assessment of the ISA report.
He called recommended initiatives in the report, such the introduction of decade long National Missions “gimmicks.”
“This is supposed to be a strategy report for 2030, but there’s no effective communications on money and they (ISA) are trying to propose a series of initiatives for a government who are not that interested,” Senator Carr said.
“This report is not a systemic report. It doesn’t have the comprehensive approach you have seen in other documents in previous times.”
“It’s minor pragmatic tweaks inside the existing budget envelopes.
“These are gimmicks to try to get some interest,” he said.
Senator Carr said most of the reports generated by the Coalition government “ended up on the shelf gathering dust.”
“We haven’t heard anything on the 3F (Finkel) review and the tax incentive, for instance,” he said.