Science Australia’s business heart

August 05, 2015

The Miles Review of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program has been released and endorsed by the Minister for Science and Industry, Ian Macfarlane.

The outcome is loud and clear, the government wants to use CRCs to put science at the heart of Australian business.

CRCs will remain a feature of the Australian innovation landscape. The government only wants to support CRCs that are highly industry focused and only for a single term of up to 10 years. The application process is going to simplified to make it easier and more attractive for business to bid for a CRC.

In a bold and exciting move, they’ll be a new stream in the CRC Program called CRC-Projects (CRC-P). These will again address highly focussed industry issues but at a smaller, more nimble level than a full CRC (which are generally 7 year enterprises of maybe $100 million of activity). CRC-Ps will be up to three years, up to $3.0 million of government support and will be open for application three times a year. This is a huge development to open the CRC Program up more readily to smaller businesses and more specific projects.

Reviewer David Miles recommendations are aimed to discourage CRCs going on for very long terms. While this is a big concern for those addressing long-term innovation issues, the intent is to make the CRC concentrate on solving the problem at hand and exiting, leaving the industry players better off. This is a particularly interesting approach from Mr Miles because, prior to the commencement of his review, there was one train of thought that success in a CRC meant an ongoing body. The previous Parliamentary Secretary, Bob Baldwin, had publicly asked why more CRCs don’t continue as self-sufficient organisations beyond their government funding period?

Miles downplays the importance of an ongoing organisation in his review, making it clear that the real benefits from a CRC come when the industry players involved implement the research.

Miles also sees the industry training role of CRCs as very effective and important, encouraging more of them to do more in training postgraduates for industry roles.

CRCs that are not specifically aimed at solving industry issues are the potential losers in this Review. Time and again, the review says industry should be “front and centre” of the CRC program, arguing that when the Program tries to do everything, it achieves less. But Miles holds out a possible future for “non-industry” CRCs, encouraging other Government departments to directly fund CRCs through the Department of Industry and Science, Miles points out that this happens already (the Department of Defence funds the Defence Materials Technology Centre through the CRC Program). He points out that the CRC model works and is effective, but the Industry Department shouldn’t have to front for the cost of CRCs outside its portfolio area.

So while it is disappointing that some important areas of research may not qualify for CRCs anymore, the government is leaving the door open for other government departments to participate in the CRC Program.

For Australian business, the CRC Program should become more flexible and simpler for them to get involved in.

Dr. Tony Peacock

Chief Executive

Cooperative Research Centres Association


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