Government highlights innovation policy, but...

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Innovation Minister Greg Hunt have marked the one-year anniversary of government's National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The $1.1 billion agenda was announced in December last year, as one of Mr Turnbull's first major announcements as prime minister, including a number of initiatives designed to promote innovation.

One of the key announcements was creation of the $500 million Biomedical Translation Fund, based on $250 million as for the first investment from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), with matching funds from private investors.

The MRFF, announced in the 2014-15 Budget, was controversially funded through a number of contentious health savings measures, some of which have failed to secure political support.

It was intended to reach its $20 billion target by 2020, with annual disbursements to medical research of around $1 billion. However, the failure to secure political support for its contributing savings measures means reaching the $20 billion target has been pushed beyond 2020 and speculation has emerged it could be cut back to address holes in the Turnbull government's health budget.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt also recently announced a $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund desigbned to support the commercialisation of local research through co-investment in new spin-off and startup companies, products and services created by Australian research institutions.

The Fund has complemented by the investment of $20 million to expand the CSIRO Accelerator Program to enable researchers from publicly funded research organisations and universities to more rapidly prepare their research for commercialisation.

Other initiatives have included the $23 million Incubator Support Program, changes to tax laws to incentivise investment in promising companies and $520 million to allow the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to operate the Australian Synchrotron.

One of the challenges is that, while the Turnbull government is significantly focussed on innovation and promoting commercialisation, it has cut the value of the popular R&D Tax Incentive program and is currently considering its response to a review that has recommended further changes that are generating significant concern across the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.

One of the proposed changes is the introduction of a $2 million cap on cash claims under the program.

According to AusBiotech, the proposed cap will seriously damage investment in small to medium enterprises and particularly local clinical trials activity.

The R&D Tax Incentive is popular across the life sciences sector because of the non-diluting capital it provides emerging pre-revenue companies funding early stage development of new technologies.

AusBiotech recently said the proposed cap stands in stark contrast to other policy changes, including those listed by Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt, that are "building momentum" for Australia as an internationally competitive destination for investment.