Collaboration between industry and research is vital. We know that unlocking the commercial value of Australian research will result in world-first, new-to-market innovation and new internationally competitive businesses. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are an excellent, longstanding example of how industry and researchers can work together to create these growth opportunities.
The CRC Programme supports industry-led collaborations between researchers, industry and the community. It is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus research and development efforts on progress towards commercialisation.
Importantly, CRCs also produce graduates with hands-on industry experience to help create a highly skilled workforce. The CRC Programme has been running for more than 25 years and has been extremely successful.
Since it began in 1990, more than $4 billion in funding has been committed to support the establishment of 216 CRCs and 28 CRC Projects. Participants have committed an additional $12.6 billion in cash and in-kind contributions.
CRCs have developed important new technologies, products and services to solve industry problems and improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries. The programme has produced numerous success stories; far too many for me to mention here. A few examples include the development of dressings to deliver adult stem cells to wounds; creating technology to increase the number of greenfields mineral discoveries; and spearheading a world-leading method for cleaning up the potentially toxic chemicals found in fire-fighting foams.
These examples demonstrate not just the breadth of work being done by the CRCs, but also the positive benefits they are delivering.
Featured image: Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, addresses the National Press Club at Science meets Parliament 2017
The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinas, highlighted collaboration and ensuring all Australians understood the benefits of science as key areas of focus for the Government’s science ‘vision’ in an address to the National Press Club.
The Hon Sinodinas is the fourth Minister for Science in four years. This was his inaugural address to what Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel termed the ‘network of nerds’, a gathering of over 200 of Australia’s most senior scientists at Science meets Parliament.
Sinodinas said innovation has become a buzzword that “excites socially mobile, inner-city types; but for other Australians, creates anxiety – about job losses and insecurity.”
However Australians need to be prepared for disruption as “the new constant”, he warned.
“We need to manage the transition from the resources boom to more balanced, broad-based growth.
“This is against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty and slower economic growth, and a yearning for more protectionist measures.”
Sinodinas went on to quote Atlassian co-founder and highly successful tech entrepreneur Mike Canon-Brookes, who recently questioned if the government was “dodging the question of job losses as a result of innovative change.”
“The Government has started a conversation with the Australian people to address just that question. We’re about helping your business to respond to disruption and stay viable in the future. We want to create a culture of innovation across the board.”
Australia’s climate science and energy future
Overall, the mood at Science meets Parliament, which brings 200 science, technology, engineering and maths professionals and researchers to Canberra to pitch their programs to politicians – about a third of whom volunteer their time – was positive and researchers were happy to be heard.
“Science meets Parliament is a great event. It is about recognising the contribution of scientists. Scientists and politicians should be natural communicators,” said Sinodinas.
He also addressed criticisms of the Government’s commitment to climate change science at the National Press Club address.
“We haven’t turn our back on climate science, we made sure it is properly looked after and protected and that will provide its own insight into climate science information. We are also trying to deal with this issue at the same time as we deal with the affordability and reliability of energy.”
Science at the forefront of the next election
Last night both the Minister and Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten presented their vision of science at a gala dinner. Sinodinas extolled Australia’s national research infrastructure, including the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array, a 3000-dish radio antennae that will offer an unique glimpse into the universe’s early history. He also emphasised we need to “nail collaboration”.
“As a country, if we want to have control over our economic destiny, we want to have world class companies operating out of Australia. To do that we need to nail collaboration.
“Finding the money for the next stage of the research infrastructure is a challenge.”
Shorten also highlighted collaboration as an essential goal, and reiterated the Opposition’s goal to invest 3% of GDP in science R&D by 2030.
“Science research and innovation are not niche areas. They should be frontline for all of us.
“The issues that scientists deal with are political and there needs to be this engagement,” said Shorten.
“Science research and innovation are economic, environmental and practical issues that are vital to adapting to technological change and will allow us to compete in the Asian market. It shapes the way that we learn and teach.”
He also emphasized the need for job security for postgraduate researchers, a sentiment widely echoed by scientists attending the Science meets Parliament event.
“For all of those postdoc researchers who spend years, we owe you certainty in terms of support,” said Shorten.
“We can’t complain about fake news when the facts don’t suit the stories. We see you as essential to the future. Science will be at the forefront of the next election.”
The Turnbull Government has announced that twenty businesses across Australia will be offered $11.3 million in Entrepreneurs’ Programme grants to help boost commercialisation and break into new international markets.
A 3-D printed jaw joint replacement, termite-proof building materials and a safer way to store grain outdoors are amongst the diverse products and services that will be fast-tracked.
The grants range from $213,000 to $1 million and are matched dollar-for-dollar by recipients.
So far, the Government has invested $78.1 million since commencement of this initiative – helping 146 Australian businesses to get their products off the ground.
The grants help businesses to undertake development and commercialisation activities like product trials, licensing, and manufacturing scale-up—essential and often challenging steps in taking new products to market.
Projects supported by today’s grant offers will address problems and meet needs in key industries including food and agribusiness, mining, advanced manufacturing and medical technologies.
The 20 projects to receive commercialisation support include:
a safer, cheaper and more efficient outdoor grain storage solution for the agricultural industry
recycling technology for fats, oils and greases from restaurants that will save money and reduce pollution
a lighter, stronger and more flexible concrete product
an anti-theft automated security system for the retail fuel industry
a cheaper, faster and safer decontamination process for mine drainage
smaller, cheaper and more patient-friendly MRI technology used for medical diagnostics
a 3-D printed medical device for jaw joint replacements that reduces surgery risk and improves patient quality-of-life
insect and termite-proof expansion joint foam for the building industry, combining a two-step process into a single product.
The Entrepreneurs’ Programme commercialisation grants help Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and small and medium businesses find commercialisation solutions.
It aims to:
• accelerate the commercialisation of novel intellectual property in the form of new products, processes and services; • support new businesses based on novel intellectual property with high growth potential; and • generate greater commercial and economic returns from both public and private sector research and facilitate investment to drive business growth and competitiveness.
We have had periods of better funding of some areas of science. We’ve had periods where it was easier for university researchers to get grants. But we’ve never had a time when the major parties have been competing to improve the whole innovation system with such vigour. Australia’s future will be better for it.
Innovation Australia becomes Innovation and Science Australia, with statutory powers. These measures alone should mean we finally get an Australian Innovation System that is worthy of the name, “system”. More important than the new money is the fact that it is virtually all ongoing funds. In my opinion, Ian Chubb will retire a satisfied man having railed against the endless “non-ongoing” science programs that wind-up just as they start performing. No longer will we have the farce of our national infrastructure facing closure every year or so.
I went into this morning’s briefing with a list of 12 expectations: five things I expected; five I hoped for; one I dreamed for; and one I hoped the government wouldn’t go for. I’m pleased to say, that I was able to tick every box. The government has blown past my expectations and delivered a great package.
There are a few minor issues. For example, start-ups might face a funding drought until the tax deduction rules are in place. Who is going to invest if a 20% tax advantage is just around the corner? Fast and effective implementation is needed.
The Prime Minister made it clear that NISA is a start. He sees constant adjustment and an agile approach. This is needed. Not only is it necessary in the economic climate that we face, but in the political environment as well. The Australian Labour Party (ALP) got in early last Friday with a raft of proposals on innovation – many we see in this package. A political environment where parties are battling it on a contest of ideas about Australia’s future? That’s exciting for sure. The government won’t be able to use NISA as a one-off to keep a few people happy. They’ll need to keep reviewing and improving — I cannot see the ALP backing away from innovation and science anytime soon.
You can view the National Innovation and Science Agenda here.