Science and Industry leadership roles emptied by Coalition

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

While the pre-election period saw a flurry of controversial appointments to plum jobs in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, numerous government-appointed leadership roles in Australia’s innovation and technology system have stayed unfilled.

The government appointed positions “intended to be filled” but vacant in the portfolios has grown nine-fold to 18 in the last year, in which four different ministers have been in charge of Industry, Science and Technology.

The committee responsible for overseeing grants to grow and commercialise emerging local businesses is half empty and without a chair, while the board of Industry Innovation and Science Australia (IISA) overseeing it is nearly half empty itself at a near historic low.

Parliament House, Canberra

There are also vacancies for government appointed positions on the Space Agency advisory board, the government’s science advisory group, the nuclear regulator, and two other IISA committees advising on the R&D Tax Incentive and innovation investments.

The Australian government has also failed to nominate a director for Silicon Quantum Computing, the independent quantum company the Commonwealth has a stake in.

All these roles are “intended to be filled” according to the documents Industry minister Angus Taylor and Science and Technology minister Melissa Price are required to periodically provide the Senate.

However, analysis of the documents by showed several of the positions have been unfilled since the two ministers split up the portfolio last year, and total vacancies have blown out since Karen Andrews passed on the portfolio in March last year.

In Mr Taylor’s latest report to the Senate covering appointments and vacant positions in the Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction portfolio from January to March he lists 16 vacant Industry roles to be filled by government.

Six of these are for the IISA board, which can have a maximum of 15 members, a level it reached in 2017 as the National Innovation and Science Agenda was gaining momentum but hasn’t approached since.

IISA board vacancies have grown to six under Mr Taylor, who has made only one appointment – renewing Andrew Stevens’ position as chair in February.

The government’s intention to fill three of the six IISA board vacancies is “to be determined” – the same amount as one year ago — meaning at least three of the vacant positions should be filled.

Industry ministers are responsible for appointing members to the IISA Board, and can seek advice on potential candidates from the department, a spokesperson for the Industry department confirmed.

“However, as appointments to the IISA Board are considered significant appointments as outlined in the Cabinet Handbook, the Minister must first seek approval from the Prime Minister or, at the Prime Minister’s discretion, the Cabinet, before making an appointment.”

Mr Taylor has also not appointed a chair or three additional members to the IISA overseen Entrepreneurs’ Program Committee. The Committee is responsible for delivering advice and overseeing grants up to $1 million to high potential businesses but now has only three members and four vacancies, including a chair.

In the Science and Technology Portfolio there are currently five vacancies intended to be filled, including spots on the nuclear regulator’s board, an advisory board for the Australian Space Agency, and two spots on the National Science and Technology Council, responsible for providing advice to the Prime Minister and other ministers on important science and technology issues facing Australia.

Ms Price is also yet to appoint a director to the board of Silicon Quantum Computing Company, an opportunity afforded by the government, industry and research partnership used to launch the company in 2017.

Main industry backers, the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra have maintained a board member, but the government spot has now been vacant since mid-last year.

Across the now split portfolios there are now a combined 18 vacancies in government appointed roles for the Industry, Science and Technology portfolios, even accounting for the spots which may not be filled.

This is nine times the amount of genuinely vacant positions in the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio when it was last held by Karen Andrews a year earlier.

Neither Mr Taylor nor Ms Price’s office responded to requests for comment on the vacancies.

In the pre-election period the government Morrison government appointed a raft of former Liberal politicians and staffers to plum jobs and unnecessarily extended the terms of others with links to the Coalition.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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