A new $13 million global talent scheme program has been unveiled by the federal government, providing fast-tracked visas to STEM-focused companies, following the launch of a pilot program earlier this year.
The federal government’s mid-year economic financial outlook (MYEFO) included a number of new and already announced tech and innovation policies, including the new visa program, major cuts to research block grants and $10 million for an Office of Future Transport Technologies.
The government also confirmed that it would scap its intangible asset depreciation scheme from the innovation agenda, netting savings of $425 million over three years.
The MYEFO statement revealed that the government will be extending the 12-month Global Talent Scheme (GTS) pilot through the new Global Talent Initiative.
The GTS was announced in March as an effort to placate a tech sector that was left irate by the shock scrapping of the popular 457 visa. Split into established businesses and startups streams, the GTS provides visas for “highly-skilled and specialised positions that can’t be filled by Australian workers”.
The pilot is nearly at its halfway point, but only five companies have been approved under the scheme, with four companies being approved for the established business scheme and one under the startups stream.
The government has allocated $12.9 million over three years for the new Global Talent Initiative, which it said would attract skilled migrants to Australia.
The initiative will allocate “up to 5000 places drawn from the non-nominated and non-sponsored skilled cohort of the annual migration program”, with priority processing given to individuals with a background in a STEM field.
“This initiative builds on the existing Global Talent Scheme pilot, the Business Innovation and Investment program and the Distinguished Talent Program,” the government said.
The funding would also go towards promoting Australia as a destination for skilled individuals overseas, including in the USA, India, Europe and Singapore, with the government to also “consult broadly to determine Australia’s specific skills and talent needs”.
The tech and startup sectors had cautiously welcomed the new GTS program when it was announced, but many have been left frustrated by delays following the political leadership turmoil in Canberra.
“As the scheme finds its feet the hope is that it will provide a quick, reliable avenue for startups to access global in-demand talent. The Global Talent Scheme has the potential to be a very valuable pathway for the short-term importing of critical tech skills and experience,” the StartupAus Crossroads report said.
No further details of the initiative have been revealed by the government and it’s currently unclear whether the GTS will also be extended after the pilot program comes to an end in July next year. The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.
MYEFO also revealed a near-$200 million cut to the research block grants. The grants provide funding to eligible Australian higher education providers for research and research training, and are allocated on a calendar year basis using a program-specific formula.
The government will be achieving savings of $328.5 million thanks to the cuts, with $131.4 million of the savings already being provided back to the government.
The Opposition said the cuts put “outstanding Australia research at risk”.
“These cuts to the research block grant scheme will cost jobs at Australian universities and research institutes. Science, Research and Innovation budget tables, released in October, showed the Liberals have reduced spending on science, research and innovation by $1.1 billion in real terms – a cut of 10 per cent over the past five years,” Labor said in a press release.
“The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government talks a big book on science and research, but the facts are very different. Bill Shorten has declared that if Labor wins the federal election, which must be held within the next six months, we will end the Coalition’s war on science and research.”
Universities Australia has slammed the cuts, saying they were more than double the amount expected. Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the cuts were a “ram raid on Australia’s future economic growth, prosperity, health and development”.
“Every day, Australians right across the country – from farmers to families with young children – benefit from research breakthroughs,” Ms Jackson said.
“These cuts are the wrong decision for Australia’s future – and they will rob Australians of life-saving treatments, research to help prevent floods and bushfires, and advances in almost every aspect of people’s lives,” she said.
“The budget is forecast to return to surplus and yet the government has decided to cut funds to research which drives economic growth. This makes no sense.”
The financial report also revealed that the government has scrapped its plan to allow companies to self-assess the effective life of intangible depreciating assets, a policy revealed as part of the innovation agenda in late 2015, due to an inability to pass the reform in Parliament.
The cut would allow the government to retain $425 million in revenue.
The MYEFO report also included the establishment of the Australian Space Agency’s headquarters in Adelaide, but did not include the amount of federal funding that went towards this due to “commercial sensitivities”.
More than $37 million will be provided over four years, with $4.6 million ongoing, to assist small businesses with digital transformation, including $8.9 million for targeted training and support and $3.7 million over two years to establish a new organisation to help SMEs build digital capability.
The government has allocated $810,000 over two years for the development of the cyber.gov.au platform as the Commonwealth’s “single source of advice to support individuals and small businesses on cybersecurity matters”, and $17 million over five years for initiatives to improve online safety for children.
The introduction of electronic voting in the House of Representatives will cost $4.5 million over four years, while APRA has also been handed $58.6 million, including to enhance its ability to “identify and address new and emerging risk areas, such as cyber, FinTech and culture”.
As it announced earlier this year, the government will be established an Office of Future Transport Technologies to ensure the “timely and safe deployment of on-road automated vehicles in Australia”, with $9.7 million in funding over four years.