Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr, returned from Germany last week hoping to increase Australia's involvement in a â‚¬9 billion technology research initiative, which would lead to increased recognition for Australian ICT, according to industry sources.
Arriving back from Europe last week, Senator Carr has said that he plans to lobby for an increased Australian ICT presence in Europe by exploring the possibilities of becoming a full partner or associate member of the European Commission Framework Program, which allots â‚¬9 billion of its â‚¬50 billion in research funding to ICT projects.
Senator Kim Carr
Credit: Australian Labor Party
"The Labor government is absolutely committed to internationalising our research and innovation system. It was one of the key priorities of our 10 point plan for rebuilding the national innovation system in April last year; and it is an important focus of the current review of the national innovation system," said Carr in a statement.
"We want to boost the opportunities available to Australia from collaboration with the EU and its member countries," he added.
The Framework Program is an EU initiative aimed at strengthening the "technological base of European industry", and helping to maintain the region's "leadership in the global knowledge economy", according to the European Commission. The program encourages countries, businesses and research institutions from outside of Europe to participate as a means of stimulating competition and jobs growth among its member states.
"This could be quite a significant development, as to some extent Australia's [ICT] focus hasn't really been with the EU, I dare say it's been very much in response to the free market or with developments in the US for some time," said Richard Harris, research VP at analyst firm Gartner.
Australia's limited dealings with the Framework Program are currently spearheaded by National ICT Australia (NICTA), an independent research institute funded by the Federal Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
"NICTA has been working with the Framework Program for some time, and if Australia was to become a partner or associated member it would definitely lead to us becoming much more highly regarded," Harris said.
The ICT research body is currently involved in a number of collaborative projects with EU partners, including establishing a protocol mechanism for next generation devices with an unnamed European multinational, and playing an active role in the construction of an embedded systems cluster as part of the Artmeis EU initiative, according to NICTA's acting CEO Phil Robertson.
Robertson told ZDNet.com.au today that the benefits for the Australian ICT industry of becoming a full member of the Framework Program would include "complete access to the EU Framework companies, capabilities and linkages and the ability to bid for EU project activities to be funded in Australia, as well as direct engagement and global market outlets for AU ICT companies as a result".
He added that a further benefit would be "exposure to a broader range of commercial opportunities through EU companies and having stronger connection to international research collaborations".
Gartner's Harris believes that while the benefits to enterprises would be substantial, the real strength in becoming a member country would be in the research sector.
"At this stage it's going to be a bit of a challenge to see how smaller industry players might be supported, but so far it's interesting in itself to see what the federal government's new approach to this kind of thing is going to be," he said.