Political leaders speak in support of innovation


Science reaches into every corner of our lives—in ways we instantly recognise such as medical advances, and in other ways that are more subtle, according to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

Speaking in Parliament to mark National Science Week, Mr Macfarlane said science is critical for jobs, growth and business success.

"It underpins our nation's innovation capacity. This is important because today's innovation is tomorrow's industry and tomorrow's jobs," he said. "Australia's science policy, and its connection to industry policy, has never been more important. The Australians who work in our labs, in the field and in research hubs around the nation are truly the foot soldiers of the future. Our policy settings need to ensure that Australian businesses are given every opportunity to compete and to succeed."

Mr Macfarlane said Australia "must get a bigger bang for our science dollar," highlighting the country's "patchy" performance when it comes to innovation.

"Australia's position in the evolving economy relies on a realignment of industry policy which is now focussed on facilitating the businesses of the future and supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of Australians," he said.

According to Mr Macfarlane, a strong culture of innovation requires high levels of cooperation between research and industry.

"The Australian government is building a culture of entrepreneurship through changes to employee share schemes, encouraging investment in innovative Australian businesses through reforms to the significant investor visa and regulatory reforms to facilitate access to crowd source equity funding. But there is still work to be done to lift the entrepreneurial culture of Australia."

In response, Labor Leader Bill Shorten said his party believes research, innovation and a fundamental respect for scientific evidence are at the heart of Australia's future prosperity.

"We believe innovation is the lifeblood of future prosperity," said Mr Shorten. "That is why it is front and centre of our economic plans and programs for the future. We believe Australia should be a science nation, competing with rest of the world and winning. We share a national commitment to science and to an Australia that nourishes the intellect of our people to build a smarter, more creative and more agile economy."

He said actions speak louder than words when it comes to policy support for innovation, highlighting the Abbott Government's funding cuts to science and research programs.

Mr Shorten said Labor was committed to fostering a policy environment that supported science and innovation "right along the line—research, concept, discovery and product."

"It is true that Australia excels at discovery. In medical research, for example, we account for one per cent of the world's expenditure but produce three per cent of the world's output," he said. "Despite this success, we are second last in the OECD when it comes to research collaboration for small and medium enterprises, and we are last for large firms. We need to work together to bridge the divide between what our scientists discover and what our businesses use. We need to stop good ideas, unfulfilled breakthroughs and frustrated innovators falling into a void or—even worse—heading overseas."