​Government lays out second and third 'waves' of Australia's innovation agenda

The federal government is moving into the second and third waves of its innovation agenda, introducing initiatives to encourage more startup-private sector engagement.

Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt has detailed the federal government's plans for the continued rollout of its innovation agenda, which will include focusing on encouraging investment from private sector players.

Speaking at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) State of the Nation forum in Canberra, Hunt said that despite steady growth in the country's GDP, productivity growth has been flat for the past eight years.

"Our global rankings in competitiveness and innovation have been flat or falling. This is concerning as innovation is central to productivity growth," Hunt said.

"In this global setting of low growth, Australia needs new strategies to strengthen performance, like higher levels of innovation to boost productivity, in addition to traditional weapons like sound regulatory and institutional settings that support a robust Australian economy."

In December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled Australia's National Innovation and Science Agenda, which for a cost of AU$1.1 billion covers more than 20 measures centred on his "Ideas Boom" rhetoric.

The innovation agenda is centred on four principles: Building the science culture and capital, strengthening collaboration, encouraging science and innovation talent, and government leading as an exemplar.

In the first wave, already underway, Hunt said the government has amended the tax system to encourage investors to direct their funds towards high-growth, innovative startups, and conducted a review into the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive.

Hunt also said the government kicked off its plan to boost women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with one example seeing former Assistant Minister for Science Karen Andrews chair a roundtable earlier this year.

The government also allocated AU$250 million to the Australian Synchrotron, and a further AU$26 million was pledged over five years to support the developments the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology at the University of New South Wales, has made, and advancements it will make, in quantum computing.

"In my view, innovation is about both old and new businesses. It matters as much to the worker in the factory as it does to the app designer," Hunt said. "This is because businesses old and new, whether they produce a product or provide a service, can all benefit from innovation. It's all about turning ideas into commercial opportunities."

Hunt said that while government has helped set the right conditions, it has ultimately been private enterprise that has had the vision and drive to generate prosperity.

"To that end, industry policy is designed to help businesses help themselves, placing the onus on business leaders to make choices to help their businesses to thrive," he said.

"As a nation, we are living beyond our means. We can't continue to pass debt forward to our children and their children. We are determined to get public sector finances under control so growing debt doesn't lead to higher taxes down the track."

To combat this, the second wave of the innovation agenda will focus on encouraging private sector investment in new technologies with the government's innovation fund to also move into a debt or equity matching model rather than outright grants.

The other component of the second wave is the focus on "big science infrastructure", where the government is currently investing AU$3.2 billion over 10 years in research infrastructure to be distributed through the Australian Astronomical Observatory, National Measurement Institute, CSIRO, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and Questacon.

Additionally, Hunt said that a working group, chaired by Australia's Chief Scientist Doctor Alan Finkel, is developing a plan for the government's national research infrastructure and investment capability for the next 10 years.

"Industry is about the jobs of today, innovation is about the jobs of tomorrow, and science is about the jobs of the future," the minister said. "I am confident, based on our history of navigating change that Australians will be resilient, seize opportunities to create jobs, and better the quality of our lives."

The third wave, expected to be ongoing over the next three years, will see the reduction in red tape, targeting in particular unnecessary duplication across federal, state, and local government levels.

Hunt said the government will also be helping industry sectors move into the future, which he said will be guided in part by the national 2030 plan for innovation, science, and research being developed by Innovation and Science Australia, chaired by industry veteran Bill Ferris.

"The national 2030 plan will identify investment priorities and specific areas for policy reform and enable strategic decision making to capitalise on new opportunities," Hunt added.

"While the National Innovation and Science Agenda is our industry, innovation, and science centrepiece, it's one important step in our transition towards our vision for Australia's future."

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