Government launches first of five AU$225m Growth Centres

As part of a AU$225 million Industry Growth Centres initiative, the Australian government has opened the first of five centres in Queensland that will focus on growth in the mining sector.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has launched the first of five Industry Growth Centres forming part of a AU$225 million initiative designed to boost the nation's competitiveness, productivity, and capacity to innovate.

Speaking at the Queensland University of Technology on Wednesday, Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne kicked off the Mining Equipment, Technology, and Services (METS) Growth Centre, saying it will ensure the sector receives the support it needs to prosper in an increasingly "competitive and globalised" market.

"The resource sector's continual drive to increase efficiency and productivity means there is a demand for improved equipment, technology, and services," Pyne said.

"The future prosperity of the mining equipment, technology, and services sector will depend on its ability to remain globally competitive and seize these global opportunities."

In addition to the METS Growth Centre, the Advanced Manufacturing; Food and Agribusiness; Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals; and Oil, Gas, and Energy Resources sectors will each receive a share of the four-year, AU$225 million investment to open Growth Centres. These sectors were identified by the government as those in which Australian business excels.

Pyne said the centres will "unite business acumen with the intellectual rigour of scientists, researchers, and universities" in what he hopes will drive innovation across the sector and ensure it maintains its competitive edge.

"We are a reasonably risk-averse country, we've been terribly successful as a nation, and we hadn't necessarily needed to take a great deal of risk," Pyne said. "But in this global environment where innovation, research, science, and disruptive technologies are changing ... being able to take risks and being prepared to do so is going to be an important cultural shift in Australia for business and for government."

The minister said some of the things his party will announce later in the year may not necessarily see a large cash spend. Rather, he said it might be about spending the same amount of money, but in a better way.

"It will be about creating the architecture that the government can do that lets the market planners -- that's entrepreneurs and individuals, and venture capitalists and researchers -- actually get up and go out there and sell their wares," Pyne said.

Last month, the minister said the key to Australia's future was productivity growth, driven by innovation. Speaking at the Australian Technology Network Advanced Manufacturing Industry and Collaboration Forum in Victoria, Pyne said Australia has the infrastructure to lead the world in research and innovation. He added that he believes the researchers, universities, and institutions like the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Questacon have the ability to underpin this.

Pyne believes national income is under pressure as a result of the "winding down" of the resources boom. With commodity prices softening, he said the Australian economy is in transition.

He cited the imminent closures of Ford, Holden, and Toyota, saying the future looks particularly difficult.

"The government is well aware of the reality for many machinery and equipment manufacturers affected by declining mining investment. Productivity growth is the key to competitiveness, jobs growth, and ultimately our living standards; in turn, it's driven by innovation," he said at the time.

"The Australian government is creating the environment to commercialise the research through our Cooperative Research Centres and Industry Growth Centres; we're also providing business-focused support."

Citing the success of similar models abroad, the Industry Growth Centres Initiative [PDF] will see the targeted investment in sectors that will get the best economic returns and outcomes in a "tight fiscal environment".

According to the booklet, Growth Centres will be established as not-for-profit companies, led by industry-experienced chairs who will use their expertise to work with business, researchers, and governments on coming up with practical ways to grow these sectors, boost productivity, and create jobs.

"Whilst the Growth Centres will have a physical location, they will not be constrained by physical boundaries," the booklet says. "Growth Centres will be tasked with actively creating networks across Australia to support the productivity and competitiveness of the sectors."

Previously, Pyne said driving innovation is important for jobs and growth, saying that while the government wants to encourage ideas for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, they need to be good ideas. He said that for the past two years, his party has worked to drive innovation and admitted, however, that there is much more to be done.

Pyne's remarks were in response to a AU$17.8 million HECS-like startup initiative announced by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that same day.

Shorten said he wanted 2,000 students to partake in a "startup year" while at university to "develop their ideas, get business know-how, and connect with finance". He added that although Australia has some "great startups", the country currently has one of the lowest rates of startup formation in the world.

"Innovation has to be more than a political buzzword; it's the only option for our economy if we are to maintain our current standard of living," Pyne said.

"While Labor appears to have a sudden new-found desire to promote innovation in Australia, a better start would be for them to support the China Free Trade Agreement; the Labor Party should work with the government to help create the jobs for the future, and the China Free Trade Agreement is critical for job creation."

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