New spotlight on defence research

James Riley
Editorial Director

If it has done nothing else, the Innovation and Science Australia 2030 strategy delivers a specific recommendation that government spending should be used as an instrument of industry development. And nowhere is this more important than leveraging Australian defence investments.

There is an opportunity for the Australian government to take advantage of the spill-over effects of major projects, such as those being run by Defence, as a way to develop local industry and innovation.

The ISA 2030 report makes several references to the Department of Defence, and the Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group. It points out, for example, to the successful partnership between DST and Thales Australia in pioneering work on sonar sensors to detect deep sea activity.

Alex Zelinsky: The DST Group is already reforming its procurement programs

This subsequently led to non-military spin-offs being developed, resulting in $350 million in export revenues in recent years.

“Spending on major programs that governments have already decided to pursue can bolster industry capability, productivity and competitiveness,” the plan said.

The remarks come as part of the ISA’s public release of the 2030 Strategy Plan, a roadmap that been delivered to advise the Australian government on how to develop the nation’s industry policies out to 2030.

Chief Defence Scientist and head of the DST Group Dr Alex Zelinsky has welcomed the 30 Innovation and Science Australia recommendations and the recognition of the work already carried out by Defence in research commerialisation.

“They were quite complementary of our efforts, which was great. It’s good to get acknowledgement we’re on the right track,” Dr Zelinsky told

“It reinforces whether the programs we’re leading are the right thing. They will stimulate innovation and draw on the capabilities of Australian universities and industry to deliver better outcomes for the whole country.”

“The government set the National Innovation and Science Agenda, and then we, in our various departments, are aligning with the agenda. That has led to the Next Generation Technology Fund, and to programs like grand challenges, the Defence CRC, our own Defence research, and our small business innovation research programs and accelerators.”

The 2030 Strategy Plan also examined how Australia’s defence procurement policies can have greater impact if the local industry is incentivised to improve productivity, skills and innovation to win domestic and export business, rather than simply rely on preferential purchasing arrangement in support of local companies.

An example is in the way Defence is investing $200 billion over the next 10 years in defence capability projects. But this figure sets aside money for establishing a 10-year $1.6 billion defence and innovation program involving the launch of the Centre for Defence Industry Capability, Defence Innovation Hub for the development of capabilities, and the Next Generation Technologies Fund for supporting research.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced this week how the government will be allocating $20 million per year for the next decade to deliver its $3.8 billion defence export strategy. Of this, $4.1 million will used for grants to help build the capability of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to compete internationally, while $3.2 million will be used to enhance and expand the Global Supply Chain program to help SMEs export their capabilities overseas.

Defence is also working with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to collect data and report on the industry and innovation spillover benefits of its major capability programs.

“These future longitudinal data sets have the potential to inform future spillover forecasting,” the ISA report said.

Another recommendation the ISA made, while drawing again to Defence as an example, is the need for the government to increase the use of innovative procurement strategies to improve outcomes and take advantage of government operation.

The report said part of this would involve expanding the challenged-based Small Business Innovation Research for Defence program, as well as creating a ‘government as first customer program’ for startups to be trialed by two of the major procurement departments before a rollout across all government departments.

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