Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research - Senator Hon Kim Carr
Speech at the Jasper Hotel, Melbourne Victoria
[check against delivery]
It is a pleasure to see so many distinguished researchers gathered in Melbourne for the 2010 National Research Infrastructure Forum.
This forum provides an opportunity for you to have your say.
I trust that you will explore ways in which we can strengthen research partnerships at home and abroad.
This is particularly important when we consider ways to lift industry investment in research and development (R&D).
Secondly, I hope you will look at ways in which we can communicate more effectively with the public about the resources for and value of investing in research.
Let me take this opportunity to spell out my view of the vital nature of our collective work.
We come to this forum with great expectations.
I trust we are committed to the pursuit of excellence.
I also trust that there is a common belief in the transformational power of science.
This belief underpins the philosophical view of this government.
However, Labor governments have never been content to accept the status quo. We need to improve upon our current performance.
We must strive to build the foundations for a better society.
We seek to realise a prosperous, fair and decent society.
We cannot achieve this without our researchers.
Today, I call on you to help us build productivity and prosperity across all sectors of the economy.
I also call on you to help us respond to global challenges such as climate change and help provide for the needs of a growing and ageing population.
The enabling role of Government
Science doesn’t happen by magic.
The Government is the critical enabler.
That is why we are investing $8.9 billion in science, research and innovation in 2010-11.
And it is why we have invested close to $2 billion in research infrastructure alone since we were first elected.
This is not including the funding awarded through the Australian Research Council (ARC), Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) program or other research agencies.
We invest in equipment and people.
And through our investment we facilitate partnerships across government, the research community, and industry.
We expect the public will benefit from this.
We expect great things of you as researchers.
We expect great things of your institutions and partners.
You are right to expect great things of us in return.
Soon after we came to office, the Labor Government made the reform of our research sector a priority. Our innovation agenda for Australia is spelt out in the White Paper, Powering Ideas.
We are committed to an innovation system that:
As we enter our second term, these imperatives weigh upon us with renewed force. The continuing global economic problems have fuelled calls for governments across the world to slash their budgets.
Even in Australia, in the recent election, we heard calls to reduce Education Investment Fund (EIF) funding by $1 billion.
In this country, some will continue to argue that investment in research is extravagant.
I strongly disagree with that sentiment.
The Australian Government understands that its responsibilities to the nation’s future cannot be put on hold. This means that priorities will have to be set.
This does not mean that hard decisions can be avoided. However, the Commonwealth will not lose sight of the future needs of our researchers, our industries, and our communities.
That is why the Australian Government has asked the new National Research Infrastructure Council to provide advice on Australia’s infrastructure needs and priorities.
Their work will complement events such as this Forum, which allow our leading research institutions to share their insights with government.
I am particularly pleased that this Forum will focus on opportunities for more effective and efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors.
It is timely that we re-examine the role that industry plays in research infrastructure projects.
In Powering Ideas, we set ourselves a goal of doubling the level of collaboration between publicly funded research agencies and business over the next decade.
This collaboration will be critical to ensure the research community can deliver the knowledge and skills our growing industries need.
I am encouraged by the reports my officers have given me about changing attitudes that point to improvements in business engagement with public research agencies.
More and more, industry is seeing the value of basic research. There is a greater understanding from business of the importance of building Australian research capacity.
However, much more needs to be done.
In part, this is why we are pushing ahead with reforms to the R&D Tax Credit.
The R&D Tax Credit provides $1.6 billion per annum to support business innovation in Australia. Our approach is aimed at lifting investment, particularly from small and medium-size enterprises.
We have concentrated on refocussing R&D by doubling the level of support for small and medium-size enterprises, and increasing by one-third support for large enterprises.
Because universities and public research institutions play such a vital role in the creation of new knowledge, and because commercialisation has been an area in which we need to improve significantly, this reform package will have significant implications for public research.
Recently Australia rose to 11th place in the OECD ranking for business expenditure on R&D.
While this is encouraging, we have improved our position off a very low base. We remain well below the OECD average and outside the top third of countries.
Collaboration will be critical to ensure the research community can deliver the knowledge and skills our growing industries need.
The baseline identified in Powering Ideas uses 2006-07 data. On those figures, only 7.2 per cent of innovation-active businesses collaborated with our public research agencies. And a mere 1.6 per cent collaborated with universities. That puts us well down the OECD scale.
We need to lift our game.
My faith in the abilities of our researchers is constantly rewarded when I see the products of their labours.
The Australian Government wants you to have the best kit the country can afford and we want you to use it wisely.
The future living standards of the Australian people depend upon your success.