Tag Archives: government policy

public policy

Evidence-based public policy needs engineers

Engineers need to be at the top table too, says Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre.

McIntyre told create it is important that governments of all persuasions move away from populist policy based on opinion rather than fact.

“There’s a trend around the world towards popularism. I don’t think that’s a constructive way for Australia or the world to move forward when there are so many challenging issues facing us,” he said.

“That’s where scientists and engineers will play a role – in supporting governments in proper policy based upon evidence.”

And there are indications that both of the major parties are willing to listen. The Federal Government has recently announced a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which they say will help science and technology gain a stronger voice in the policy process.

For its part, Labor has promised to establish a Prime Minister’s Science and Innovation Council and launch a $1 million inquiry into science and research, if it wins come election time.

McIntyre supports these moves to strengthen the avenues for scientific advice, and looks forward to seeing the detail of how they will be applied. He also believes engineers need to be represented on bodies such as the NSTC to expand theory and research to deployment of practical solutions for the community.

“Where the rubber hits the road is through engineering,” he explained.

Trailing our global competitors

Another Labor election promise is to boost research funding to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030. This has been welcomed by Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson, who said Australia must keep pacewith the investments of leading world nations to remain competitive.

McIntyre agreed, pointing out that Australia’s level of research and development funding is below the OECD total of 2.3 per cent of GDP.

“We’re trailing our international competitors … As a modern community, we need to continually invest in R&D,” he said, adding that the level of funding Labor is proposing will require both public and private sector investment.

According to the latest available OECD data (from 2016), Australia’s R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen below China, Slovenia and the Netherlands, although it is still slightly above the UK and Canada.

Engineering thinking is critical

McIntyre said some governments have already engaged chief scientists and engineers to help inform evidence-based policy.

The NSTC will be chaired by Commonwealth Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who is an engineer. Finkel is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and this year’s recipient of the country’s top engineering award: the Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal.

Several state governments also have expert advisors. NSW established a combined Chief Scientist and Engineer position a decade ago. This role is currently filled by roboticist Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, who is also an Engineers Australia fellow.

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government followed suit, appointing its first Chief Engineer – Dr Collette Burke – to provide guidance on the state’s infrastructure boom. The ACT has also announced a permanent chief engineer position, with public servant George Tomlins as the interim incumbent. The permanent position is expected to be filled early next year.

McIntyre said he would like to see more state governments appoint chief engineers and scientists. He is also an advocate for having engineers at the “top table” in government advisory boards to lend analytical and critical thinking skills to policy discussions.

While he believes dedicated chief engineer roles are ideal, McIntyre supports combined scientist and engineer positions where budgetary or political concerns make this a more pragmatic approach.

“The critical thing to my mind is there is an opportunity to channel engineering thinking and the concerns of engineers through a senior person at the table in government,” McIntyre said.

This article was originally published on create as “Election time: Evidence-based policy needs engineers to be at the table”.

R&D

R&D tax investment takes a hit

The biggest loser appears to be the R&D tax measures for business, reducing from $2.8b to $2.3b, a fall approaching 18%. Some care needs to be exercised as the comparisons given are not final figures; they are the estimated actual figures for 2017-18 and the budget estimate figures for 2018-19. Furthermore, the R&D tax measures are not actually government spending but are revenue foregone by the government, which is perhaps more difficult to estimate.

The full impact of changes to the R&D tax measures are yet to play out. The Ferris, Finkel, Fraser Review of the system was announced as part of the NISA statement in December 2015. The reviewers were asked to “identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the R&D Tax Incentive, including by sharpening its focus on encouraging additional R&D spending”.

The review panel found that the R&D tax measures fell short of meeting their objectives of additionality and spillovers. They recommended six changes, which have been the subject of considerable debate since the public release of the report in September 2016. A “collaboration bonus” recommendation was not taken up, although a number of advocacy groups have continued to press the case. On budget night this year, the government announced a range of measures to “refocus” the R&D tax measures. The refocusing included a crack down on R&D tax claims that push the boundaries of the arrangements, with enhanced integrity, enforcement and transparency arrangements. A consultation process closed 26 July and the final form of the legislation is expected to come before the current parliament.

What we currently know is that the government expects a significant reduction in the total cost of the R&D tax measures from 2017/18 to 2018/19. What we don’t know is how much the reduced expenditure is due to actual reduced R&D spending by companies or whether savings from the crack down and enhanced enforcement are having a great impact. While one still hears horror stories of tax claims for “R&D” that looks far more like business as usual, most of the stories haven’t changed that much from the last big reforms in 2010. Obviously no government wants to provide incentives to companies to simply do what they would have done regardless. Getting that balance right is the key to tax measures for R&D and it will remain a closely watched space over the coming year.

While indirect R&D support to business may be reducing, the direct mechanism through the CRC Program is doing relatively well. Budget figures show an increase of over $30M in the annual allocation to the program over the forward estimates, rising to $192M in 2021-22. The increase is much needed, as it brings the program back toward the level it enjoyed a decade ago. The introduction of the extremely popular CRC-Projects comes from the same budget and they continue to build momentum with business. Demand for CRC-Ps is growing substantially and companies enjoy the simplicity of the grants which foster collaboration between businesses and between business and public research organisations.

The Science, Research and Innovation Budget tables can be viewed here.

– Tony Peacock

Originally published by the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

Kickstart innovation culture

Kickstarting the innovation culture

On Monday 7 December, in his first major policy announcement since becoming Prime Minister in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull unveiled an innovation package to drive an “ideas boom” in Australia.

Speaking at CSIRO in Canberra, Turnbull and Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne announced $1 billion in government spending over four years. The funds, says Turnbull, will kickstart an innovation culture in Australia.

“This statement is an absolutely critical part of securing our prosperity. The big shift is cultural – if we can inspire people to be innovative, the opportunities are boundless,” says Turnbull.

The plan outlines 25 measures across four key areas: culture and capital; embracing risk; incentivising early-stage investment in startups; and addressing governance issues through the establishment of two new bodies to oversee the plan: the Innovation and Science Sub-Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, and newly established independent advisory board, Innovation and Science Australia.

These, according to Pyne, will “put science and innovation at the heart of government policy”.

“I wrote a list of expectations before I went in and got to tick everyone of them,” says Dr Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Corporate Research Centres Association (CRCA). “Now startups will be much better placed to raise their own funds,” he says.

According to Peacock, by changing the insolvency laws, such as reducing the default bankruptcy period from three years to one, and making it easier for startups to gain access to capital, “the government has put the ball back in the innovator’s court”.

The biomedical and biotechnology industries have also welcomed the announcement.

“We are keen to see this positive policy transformed into action that makes a difference to Australia’s ability to commercialise and benefit from our world-class research and development,” says Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO of biotechnology organisation AusBiotech.

The plan represents a major step forward for science innovation in Australia, according to Dr Peter French, CEO and managing director of biopharmaceuticals company Benitec Biopharma, and “is the most exciting and refreshing statement of vision for Australia that I have seen from our politicians”.

French, named this month one of Australia’s “Innovators of Influence” by the Australian Science Innovation Forum, says that ”rewarding academics for working with industry is well intentioned, but without safeguards, could end up being counter productive to Australian innovation”.

The package includes a $100 million boost to the CSIRO budget, reversing the $110 million cut under the Abbot Government last year. The Government will also co-invest with the private sector in the $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund for new spin-out and startup companies and services created by research institutions. Biomedical research will also benefit from a $250 million Biomedical Translation Fund.

These funds will support investment in spin-off and startups, to develop and commercialise promising products and services from Australia’s research community.

Science research will receive an injection of funding, with $520 million for the Australian Synchrotron facility and $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array over the next decade. The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) will also receive $1.5 billion to deliver world-class research facilities to Australian researchers in Australia and abroad.

The package also includes a $36 million Global Innovation Strategy to support collaboration between Australian researchers and businesses with their international counterparts. Landing pads for Australian startups and entrepreneurs will be established in Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley and three other key locations around the globe.

There will also be a $99 million investment in programs to improve digital literacy and skills in STEM amongst young Australians. And $13 million will be made available to increase opportunities for women working in research and STEM industries and start-ups.

“Innovation and Science are two sides of the same coin, and this plan will bring them both together: driving jobs, growth and investment and igniting a national ‘can-do’ attitude,” says Pyne.

– Carl Williams