When the Industry Growth Centres initiative was launched by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane in 2014, it was aimed at encouraging Australian business to better utilise the expertise of Australian researchers.
The Growth Centres initiative was the major component of the Abbott government’s $400 million innovation and competitiveness policy, which was designed to fill a void left by a swathe of Rudd-Gillard programs that were axed in the 2014 budget.
The Growth Centre were targeted at a couple of perennial problems in the Australian research system. First, the low-level of business expenditure on R&D and secondly the low-level of commercial R&D collaborations between business and institutional research.
This is an area that successive governments have sought to address, with mixed results.
Tony Abbott announced five Industry Growth Centres, each targeted sectors where government felt Australia boasted a competitive advantage. These were to cover food and agri-business; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, and advanced manufacturing sectors.
When Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister and later unveiled the Australian Government Cyber Security Strategy in 2016, the sixth Growth Centre was added, called the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, later re-named AustCyber.
The objectives of the Industry Growth Centres are well documented.
But the effectiveness of successive governments in finding the right combination of incentives and funding to meet those objectives has not always met expectations.
The Industry department is readying for release a performance review of the Industry Growth Centres initiative. This follows the release last year of a review of the effectiveness of the communications activities of each growth centre.
It is important that the objectives of the growth centres are achieved, especially in relation to encouraging effective research collaboration and helping to increase the business community’s annual spending on R&D.
InnovationAus.com will in the next several weeks publish a series of interviews with the CEOs of the growth centres. The aim is to paint a picture of where the growth centres fit within the overall innovation system, and to highlight the immediate, medium-term and long-term goals of each.
InnovationAus.com approached each of the growth centres late last year to ask whether they would participate in the series. We were able to secure interviews with just three. Unsurprisingly, the three growth centres that agreed to the interviews are the three top ranked in the review of communication effectiveness.
The future of the Industry Growth Centre initiative is far from assured. Shadow industry minister Kim Carr has made no secret of his belief that the program is underperforming. He has also lashed the CEO and chairman remuneration packages within the program (with one CEO earning $485,000 in total compensation.
Senator Carr has openly questioned whether the public was getting value for money from the program.