With another year almost over, InnovationAus.com has put together a two-part recap of the key highlights of an extraordinary 2018.
For this first part, we’ll look at what happened during the first six months.
The year started off with the chair of Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) Bill Ferris putting innovation back on the agenda for the federal government with the release of the 2030 Strategic Plan.
The report contained 30 recommendations for the federal government as a “clarion call for action” to transform the country into a top tier innovation nation by 2030. The strategy covered everything from skills shortages, R&D tax, data sharing, procurement, and making Australia the healthiest nation on earth.
The plan was met by scepticism by many including the Labor Party, which referred to it as “piecemeal” plan after turning away from the Turnbull government’s 2015 innovation agenda – and rightly so.
The federal government quietly released its lukewarm response to the 2030 strategy, offering support for just 17 of its 30 recommendations and ‘in principle’ support to 10 others.
A more formal response was presented as part of the May Budget. It partially acknowledged the 30 recommendations but ignored recommendations to increase funds for Export Market Development Grants.
The Budget also saw then-Treasurer Scott Morrison give the R&D Tax Incentive a $2.4 billion haircut over the next four years, without detailing exactly how that saving will be spent – if at all. It was long after – during Senate Estimates – that Senator Kim Carr went on the attack accusing the government of “budget fraud” and pocketing the $2.4 billion from the R&D tax changes, instead of reinvesting it in the innovation sector.
Space also made headlines in the Budget. The federal government handed down just over $26 million over four years to establish Australia’s first national space agency – much to the disappointment of the local space sector that had anticipated it would be at least double the amount.
The agency’s initial tasks will be to establish its charter and overarching strategy, along with an investment plan, and to decide where its headquarters should be permanently based.
It was around Budget time the Coalition government unveiled its framework and timeline for Australia’s open banking scheme, rejecting attempts from the big banks to delay the roll-out. Under the framework, all major banks are being required to make credit and debit card, deposit and transaction accounts data available by July next year.
Data relating to mortgages would be made available to consumers by February 2020, while all remaining data on products must be available by July 2020. Other small banks would be given a 12-month delay on this timeframe.
Plans for open banking was first revealed in February as part of a 158-page review, indicating the regime would give customers greater access and control of their data and would “revolutionise” the financial services sector.
The first half of the year also served as an extended waiting period for reforms to be made to the crowdsource funding bill. Despite having enjoyed bipartisan support when the bill was initially introduced to parliament in September 2017 to extend equity crowdfunding to private companies, the reforms were not passed until mid-September.
Prior to the changes, the scheme required companies to convert to unlisted public companies in order to take part, which effectively shut out 99 per cent of local companies, especially startups.
Nearly a year after the shock scrapping of the 457 visa program, the federal government took 2018 as a chance to redeem itself. It announced in March that it would kick off a 12-month trial of its Global Talent Scheme (GTS). Aimed at tech companies, the trial, which began in the new financial year, allows companies to offer four-year visas to highly-skilled tech workers from around the world.
The decision to introduce the GTS was a welcomed one by startup community following the reprieve of the 475 visa program, noting it was a “step in the right direction” in helping local companies access global talent.
The announcement followed a Treasury research paper revealing earlier in the year that migration has a net positive impact on the economy and leads to increased innovation in businesses.
It found migrations use less government services than they provide in tax payments and will contribute as much as one percentage point of annual economic growth each year from 2020 to 2050.