Turnbull to spend AU$1.1b for 'perpetual' ideas boom

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has released the government's Innovation and Science Agenda on Monday, promising to inject over 1 billion dollars into various initiatives to usher in the 21st century ideas boom.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Unlike the mining boom, the ideas boom is one that can continue forever and is limited only by our imagination, according to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The federal government unveiled its National Innovation and Science Agenda on Monday, leading with a AU$1.1 billion commitment to bring the agenda to fruition.

Speaking at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Turnbull said the billion-dollar promise will be used to incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship, reward risk taking, and promote science, maths, and computing in schools.

"Australia is falling behind on measures of commercialisation and collaboration, consistently ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration," the Prime Minister said. "Our appetite for risk is lower than in comparable countries, which means Australian startups and early stage businesses often fail to attract capital to grow."

The agenda covers 25 different measures focusing on four key areas: Culture and capital to help businesses embrace risk and incentivise early stage startup investment; collaboration to increase engagement between businesses, universities, and the research sector; talent and skills to train students for the jobs of the future and attract innovative talent from abroad; and for the government to lead by example by investing in, and using technology and data to deliver better quality services.

The National Innovation and Science Agenda includes a five-year AU$51 million investment to help students embrace the digital age and better prepare for a digital future; AU$13 million also over five years to encourage women to head down a digital career path; and an additional AU$127 million to establish a new research support program.

As previously promised, education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will receive a leg up under the new agenda, with AU$48 million pledged to inspire pre-schoolers through post-graduates to participate in STEM. Existing university research programs will receive a further AU$127 million than already outlined, with the programs forecast to support over 50,000 researchers and 43,000 students undertaking higher degree research, across 42 Australian universities.

In the wake of previous budget cuts by the Abbott government, the CSIRO will receive AU$200 million to support co-investment in new spin-off and startups; a new Biomedical Translation Fund will see AU$250 million injected into it to aid in discoveries and assist in their commercialisation. The newly formed Data61 will receive AU$75 million to capitalise on the data revolution and in a bid to aid in the advancement of quantum computingin the country, the University of New South Wales will receive a AU$26 million, five-year investment.

Taking the hint from the recommendations made on Thursday by the Senate Economics References Committeein its final report on Innovation in Australia, the government has promised a focus on regional Australia to support startups and entrepreneurship outside of major cities, and a new Incubator Support Programme will receive AU$8 million.

Building on the government's proposed crowdfunding legislation released last week, Monday's agenda sees the increase in early investment capital from AU$100 million to AU$200 million; as well as a 20 percent non-refundable investment tax offset capped at AU$200,000 per investor per year; a 10-year capital gains tax exemption; and a reduction in bankruptcy default from three years to one.

A new uncapped Entrepreneur Visa will also be introduced to attract overseas talent.

The federal government has also pledged AU$30 million toward an industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre and committed AU$19 million for a Business Research and Innovation Initiative to transform government procurement.

Turnbull said that despite his confidence, he cannot guarantee the success of these policies. He said if these initiatives do not succeed, they will be changed with lessons learnt.

"That is what a 21st century government must do," he said. "It has got to be as agile as the startup businesses it seeks to inspire."

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