The Australian government’s innovation and science strategy includes 24 specific initiatives designed to kick start Australian innovation, including $1.1 billion to drive what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calls an ‘ideas boom’. We asked our experts for their insights on some of the key innovation initiatives.
1. CSIRO rebooted: $200 million to give our science agency its mojo back
The government will invest an extra $200 million in a joint innovation fund, which will co-invest in businesses that develop technology through the CSIRO.
'It’s encouraging to see such a fantastic hub of research and innovation being supported,” says Swinburne University of Technology astrophysicist Dr Alan Duffy. 'It is vitally important that institutions like the CSIRO have bipartisan support for the work of a new generation of world-class scientists and engineers.'
2. Do Not Go To Jail: Gentler bankruptcy laws that don’t punish failure
Launching the statement, the Prime Minister noted that bankruptcy laws are overly punitive and stifle entrepreneurial activity. Mr Turnbull says a new regulatory environment will allows start-ups to thrive and will not unduly punish entrepreneurs and investors for taking risks. This will allow many failed start-ups a second chance at success.
'Policies that encourage investors and entrepreneurs to invest with confidence are most welcome,' says Professor Beth Webster, the Director of Swinburne’s Centre for Transformative Innovation.
'To ensure the effectiveness of such policies, Government must take a long term, bipartisan approach, thus giving certainty to entrepreneurs, start-ups and industry.'
3. Deep Impact: Universities to be scrutinised on how they apply research outcomes
Australian universities’ poor performance in industry collaboration has been an impediment to maintaining industry relevant research outcomes and contributing to enhanced productivity in Australia. The Government’s innovation statement, along with the recent Watt review of research policy and funding arrangements, seeks to reward industry engaged research impact as opposed to research volume.
'We are pleased to see that the Government’s innovation statement signals intent to reward research based on its impact and relevance to industry and society,' says Professor Aleksandar Subic, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Development).
'This is a positive development as it incentivises high impact research, leading to outcomes which enhance productivity and innovation and drive economic growth. Swinburne’s research and innovation strategy is well aligned with this direction.'
4. Universities and Industry: Together we achieve more
An innovation connections programme has been allocated $18 million to help link industry with researchers. The objective of the program is to foster the development of ideas with commercial potential. The programme will give small to medium enterprises (SMEs) access to matched grants. These can be accessed for research projects with public universities and research institutions.
Swinburne Director of Collaborations and Partnerships, Jane Ward sees a clear role for universities in joining industry with the right researchers to solve real world business problems.
'Often SMEs are short on resources and struggle to identify where universities can add value to their enterprise. This policy will help them to consider how universities are uniquely placed to help them achieve their research goals.'
5. Future Proofing: A boost for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths education
The Government has addressed Australia’s falling maths and science standards by allocating $48 million to STEM education and $51 million to promote digital literacy.
'It’s great to see a focus on STEM education take centre stage in today’s innovation statement,' says Dean of Swinburne’s School of Software and Electrical Engineering, Professor John Grundy. 'Many countries are implementing schools programs which will help young people develop an interest in IT intensive subjects. These measures support the creation of a more digital-literate society in coming decades.'
6. Getting it right: More women in STEM
The innovation statement calls for a concerted, national effort to overcome the cultural, institutional and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM and allocates $14 million towards encouraging women and girls into the sector.
Swinburne’s Dean of Science, Professor Sarah Maddison, says getting women and girls interested in STEM is vital to driving productivity in Australia.
'Until women are represented equitably in STEM subject area and enjoy the same career opportunities and progression rates as their male counterparts, Australia will suffer sub-optimal productivity outcomes.'
7. Here to Stay: Investing in world class research infrastructure
In an unexpected move, Malcolm Turnbull has moved to guarantee funding for a decade for major items of Australia’s research infrastructure, including the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array.
'For too long our major pillars of research infrastructure have been subject to rolling periods of funding uncertainty,' says Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Linda Kristjanson.
'The government’s decision to provide funding certainty for national research infrastructure today will help to ensure that research jobs stay in Australia so that we can build further on our world class science and research capability.
'This is a huge confidence builder. It’s exactly what Australian science needs right now.'