Government has no plans for another AU$5k Policy Hack

The Australian government has said it will not be holding another Policy Hack in the coming year, leaving the innovation initiative without any further funding.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian government took a startup-inspired approach to creating new government policy ideas when it held the inaugural Policy Hack event in October.

It was initially described as a brainstorming session which saw attendees such as entrepreneurs, investors, industry, government, and interest groups, adopting a hackathon methodology and working in teams to create policies which were expected to foster growth in innovative industries such as tech startups, biotech, agtech, fintech, renewables, and resources.

The Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Industry, as well as the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Science, Senator Kim Carr, questioned the federal government at Senate Esitmates in October with the government revealing it had not allocated funding for any further Policy Hack events.

"Funding for Policy Hack is not ongoing," the response said. "Currently there are no Hackathon events planned for the future"

Policy Hack was one of the first initiatives announced not long after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came to power in September, and brought with him 25-year-old Wyatt Roy as the Assistant Minister for Innovation.

What came out of this innovative approach to tackling Australia's policies was the idea to introduce a "Lemonade Day" to primary school students that would see children own and operate their own venture, by way of a lemonade stand.

StartupAus, the country's startup advocacy group, released a report a month after the event that outlined solutions it felt would boost Australia's innovation ecosystem.

"The Policy Hack was a fantastic day, especially for the way we were able to bring together our entrepreneurs, innovators, educators, scientists, researchers, and public servants," Roy said almost a month after the event. "It's exciting to see disruption to the traditional policy-making process, with some of those ideas now finding their way to the next level of government."

The cost of Policy Hack 2015 came to AU$5,195.37, excluding goods and services tax (GST), which the government said was based on a quotation from the event host Blue Chilli. The Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science has spent AU$3,563 excluding GST on personalised stationary since its rebranding in September; and the federal government just this week announced a AU$1.1 billion Innovation and Science Agenda. The cost of Policy Hack will fall under a departmental expense for the 2015-2016 financial year.

Bill Shorten, the federal opposition leader who actually approved of the idea, told ZDNet the day before the now-canned Policy Hack that he wanted to see the government head down the path of innovation and support the role of technology to create a better future for Australia, and more jobs.

In its report following Policy Hack, StartupAus also suggested the connection of the country's startups with established enterprises through an innovation accord, an innovation precinct, and through the extension of the R&D Tax Incentive.

The R&D Tax Incentive allows companies to claim a tax break for the money they spend on internal R&D and in February, parliament passed new legislation that limits the amount for which companies can claim R&D tax breaks to AU$100 million. The legislation was backdated which left the laws to apply retrospectively from July 1, 2014.

"Some of Australia's biggest R&D investors, including companies such as Telstra and Caltex, made it clear that new R&D investments and the associated jobs could go offshore if the government's measure was passed," Carr said at the time. "Universities like the University of New South Wales said their business research partnerships would be placed at risk if access to the R&D Tax Incentive was cut."

It was revealed at Senate Estimates in October that manufacturing was the industry with the largest number of R&D registrations; professional, scientific, and technical services were second; and information media and telecommunications came in third -- accounting for only 18.3 percent of the total R&D registrations for the 2014 income year.

The total cost of R&D expenditure across all sectors was AU$19.5 million. Manufacturing and mining accounted for AU$9.7 million of the total expenditure, whilst information media and telecommunications accounted for 8.4 percent of total spend at AU$1.6 million.

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