The federal boost to university research and CSIRO funding “is a good beginning” that must be followed by a new focus on working with industry to translate institutional research “into tangible things”, according to ANZ bank chairman and University of NSW chancellor David Gonski.
The big spending budget outlined by Josh Frydenberg this month was the right thing to do to get Australians through the crisis, with some additional dollars for institutional research, and incentives for business to perform more R&D.
“Is that a beginning, a middle or an end? I think it’s a good beginning,” Mr Gonski told the Australia Israel Innovation Summit. “It’s shows government’s participation and interest in research, which in my opinion is vital.”
“We need to [now] follow the way that Israel has done this, not only in researching but in translating that [research],” he said.
Mr Gonski has urged government to follow-up its budget with a greater focus on “the second and more important” issuing of improving research translation outcomes in Australia.
“The budget has done the right thing to allow us to live through this crisis. But once we come out the other side, I think government should build on what they have already started – build on the research money – and have a look at the translation of research into practical [outcomes]”
Mr Gonski also urged government not to get too prescriptive about its focus on industries where Australia had a perceived natural or competitive advantage – such as in resources or agriculture. While it was natural to focus on things where the nation had an advantage, “but to stop there is in my opinion very limiting.”
He points to the success of Cochlear as a standout example among many. Australia does not have a higher percentage of hearing-impaired people that elsewhere in the world.
“But somebody worked it out anyway, and a beautiful and magnificent company developed from that which continues to provide fantastic technology.”
Meanwhile, CSL chief scientific officer and board member Andrew Cuthbertson said government must take into account global competition when designing policy settings “to offer an attractive commercialisation environment” that is competitive with peer nations.
“Knowledge intensive companies that collaborate, innovate and export as CSL tries to do will be very important in driving Australia’s future prosperity,” Mr Cuthbertson said.
“But competition between peer nations for really important things like skilled job creation, or capital investment in things like advanced manufacturing [is] very intense. I do think that Australia needs to refresh its public policy settings to offer an attractive commercialisation environment which is competitive with peer nations.”
Government support for large scale major projects in these knowledge-intensive industries is important, Mr Cuthbertson said, and while grants programs can be helpful – especially to smaller companies – grants won’t achieve the kind of large scale manufacturing in biotech that government seeks.
“If we look realistically at the difference between – when we make plans as a company – the difference between locating significant advanced manufacturing facilities here in Australia or a lower tax jurisdiction like Switzerland, the UK or now the US, the net present value over the lifetime of the major project … it can routinely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Mr Cuthbertson said.
“You’re never going to have a grant scheme that can account for that. We have to have settings for our own country, but we also have to understand how they relate to our competitors.”
Industry minister Karen Andrews said government had cushioned the impact of the economic hit that the virus had delivered as much as possible through its support programs for individuals. Now it had turned its attention to budget measures that would help to kick-start the economy.
“We have announced a very significant manufacturing strategy that the industry will lead, and of course the great enablers for industry are science and technology,” Minister Andrews said.
“We have put great emphasis on science/tech to work with industry, and that will lead our recovery,” she said.