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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3426


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:20): I rise to make some brief remarks on two aspects of the bill. This is an important bill for Australia because science, technology and innovation are so crucial to our current and future prosperity, especially as we transition to a post-carbon economy. Innovation and research are crucial to the health and wellbeing of our citizens as well as to the many people around the world that our world-leading research assists. I would like to see ultimately a national target of at least three per cent of GDP for Australia's research and development expenditure by 2020, including both public and private expenditure on research. But in 2008-09 we had an expenditure of 2.21 per cent, which is below the OECD average of 2.33 per cent. That means that we spend as little as $900 per person per year on research and development, which puts us 14th in the ranking of OECD member countries. We are well behind the next best ranked country, Iceland, which devotes 2.6 per cent of GDP to research and development. At the top of the list is Israel with 4.6 per cent, followed by Finland and Sweden; each of which spends 3.6 per cent. So we have a fair way to go, and intellectual property rights are an important part of this research landscape.

Obviously we need to be supporting innovation by encouraging investment in research and technology and by helping Australians benefit from their good ideas. But there must be a balance. We must provide sufficient protection to reward innovation without stifling it. The Greens share the concerns that have been raised regarding the low threshold for obtaining a patent. I support the measures in the bill which raise the standard for an inventive step before a patent can be obtained. This will make our laws more consistent with other jurisdictions and help to ensure that only genuinely new and useful inventions can be patented.

The Greens also have concerns regarding the lack of an explicit research exemption in the current act. We believe that such an exemption as will be contained in this amending legislation is crucial to encourage investigation free from concerns about patent infringements. If researchers are uncertain about their liability for patent infringement then this leads to inefficiencies and expenses. Patents provide the legal framework for legitimate commercial benefit. They should not stand in the way of legitimate research activities. We welcome broad and clear protection for research to maximise the potential benefits for Australia.

I also recognise that this bill has had a long consultation period and that there is widespread support from many organisations. In addition I made my own investigations in the course of working out whether to support this bill. I note that one of the world-leading health and medical research institutes is in my electorate; it is one of Australia's largest, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Professor Doug Hilton, the director of the institute, said that the raising of the bar bill would raise industry standards on patenting without jeopardising human health and the developments for new treatments for disease. He said:

Patents are vital to attracting investment in the discovery and development of new therapies and vaccines due to the extremely high costs associated with the development and natural rate of failure. We are excited about helping to make Australia a supportive environment for drug development and the new and innovative therapeutics and treatments that are to come.

I note that this bill importantly has the support of the Bio21 Cluster, which represents a significant number of the research institutes in my electorate and in broader Melbourne that really do punch well above their weight in world standards to make Melbourne and Australia generally one of the world-leading centres for health and medical research. I support the bill and I commend it to the House.