All quiet on the innovation front

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James Riley

The Victorian opposition’s last-minute innovation policy push has been labelled “too little too late” by the state government, with the election just days away.

The Victorian government has also called on the Opposition to pledge to continue funding its $60 million innovation fund LaunchVic instead.

Late last week the Victorian opposition unveiled a $32 million innovation package, with a focus on commercialisation and decentralisation.

The package includes six Industry Commercialisation Institutes, a $9 million Innovation Vouchers Program, the creation of a Victorian Chief Innovation Officer and a $1 million VicVentures grants scheme.

Shadow innovation minister David Southwick said the package would focus on leveraging the state’s existing strengths in advanced manufacturing, health and agriculture.

“To stay relevant in a globally competitive world, Victoria needs a diverse, innovative and collaborative economy,” Mr Southwick said.

“We need to get back in control of population growth and that means growing our cities in the right way, in the right time, and ensuring good jobs for locals.”

“A Liberal Nationals government will support Victorian businesses that have done the hard yards and help turn their startups into grown-ups.”

But following the announcement of the vouchers program last month, Victorian Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis said the Opposition had dragged its feet on innovation policy.

“This is too little too late from the Liberal Party – who have ignored the innovation portfolio for four years,” Mr Dalidakis said.

“While the Opposition talks about the importance of innovation, we’ve taken action. If the Liberal Party want to make a positive contribution to innovation in Victoria, they should commit funding to LaunchVic,” he said.

The Victorian election campaign has seen little focus on innovation or tech-focused policy, with few major initiatives.

The Labor government has previously been vocal about its progress in the space – particularly with LaunchVic and its strategy of attracting major global tech companies to set up shop in Melbourne – but there have been few new policies in the lead-up to the election.

Its main pitch to the sector focused on its achievements while in office over the last four years, and specifically through the body created to deploy its $60 million innovation fund, LaunchVic.

Unveiled in late 2015, LaunchVic was provided the funding over four years, and appears to have another year of funding committed by the current government. The Opposition has not made any statements about what it would do to the agency if it wins the weekend’s election.

LaunchVic has now dished out about $26 million to 80 programs across eight grant rounds, and the state government has said it has supported 242 companies and over 1,450 entrepreneurs.

While it had a quiet start to the year, LaunchVic was particularly active in the months leading up to caretaker mode at the start of November. It provided about $10 million in the second half of this year.

Previous years had also seen the Victorian government proudly boasting of attracting international tech companies to set up local headquarters in Melbourne thanks to state government assistance.

But there have been fewer announcements in this space this year, perhaps due in part to the backlash that followed Apple unveiling plans to establish a store at Federation Square late last year.

The Apple store sparked a widespread backlash, but the Opposition will go into the election without an official position on it.

Recent announcements in the space from the state government include $1.5 million in funding for the Advanced Biotechnology Manufacturing Platform at CSIRO’s Clayton Biomedical Manufacturing Precinct, new planning scheme zones for “enterprise precincts” and a controversial agreement with China that it said will “unlock trade and investment opportunities”.

The Opposition has also been quiet on innovation-focused policies during the campaign, with its policy package unveiled just a week before the election. The package is relatively small, and its focus on population growth and decentralisation seems a strange fit.

While the result of the upcoming election is not certain, Labor have been performing strongly in the polling. One thing is clear, however: innovation policy is unlikely to sway many votes.

Just like during the last federal election, the politicians have gone rather quiet on the sector in the lead-up to their constituents heading to the polls.

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