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Industry, Technology and Commerce Legislation Amendment Bill 1991



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House: Senate

Portfolio: Industry, Technology and Commerce

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Purpose

This is an omnibus Bill that will make a number of largely non-contentious amendments. The major amendments will extend the life of the Discretionary Grants and Generic Technology Grants Schemes; give legislative backing to the National Procurement Development Program; and allow the CSIRO to accept gifts of value up to $1 million without having to obtain Ministerial approval.

Background

As there is no central theme to the Bill, the background to each amendment will be explained below.

Main Provisions

Amendments to the Industry Research and Development Act 1986

The Grants for Industry Research and Development Scheme (GIRD) was established in 1986. The purpose of GIRD is to improve the efficiency and international competitiveness of Australian industry. GIRD is administered by the Industry Research and Development Board (the Board). Board responsibilities include the selection of research and development (RD) projects in accordance with the Act and guidelines issued by the Minister, and the preparation of advice to the Minister on appropriate guidelines and on the funding to be allotted.

The GIRD has two components: a Discretionary Grants Scheme (DGS) and a Generic Technology Scheme (GTS). The aim of the DGS is to improve the efficiency and international competitiveness of Australian industry by encouraging RD by companies which are ineligible to take advantage of the 150% tax concession for RD but which are capable of commercialising RD. To be eligible for a grant under the DGS, a particular project has to conform to the relevant definition of RD and has to be undertaken with the object of later commercial exploitation. DGS grants are limited to firms in the manufacturing, mining, construction and software industries. Certain technical and commercial criteria are taken into account in assessing eligibility for a DGS grant, including the benefits likely to accrue to other Australian businesses and industries, and the magnitude of the potential impact of the project in terms of knowledge, employment generation, cost reductions, and industrial competitiveness. During 1989-90, the Board approved 81 applications, the estimated value of which were $20.6 million. Grant payments made during 1989-90 totalled $15.6 million. 1 The current DGS will end on 30 June 1991.

The aims of the GTS include to increase the efficiency and international competitiveness of Australian industry through the development of new technologies; focus research into specific target areas considered to be of fundamental significance to Australia's future; and foster interaction and collaboration between researchers and industry. Communications technology, information technology, new materials technology and biotechnology are supported under the GTS. Grants are awarded for three years and are generally to research institutions and industry. Expenditure on GTS grants in 1989-90 totalled $16.1 million, comprising $5.1 million for new materials, $3.9 million for biotechnology, $4.3 million for information technology and $2.7 million for communication technology. 2 The current GTS will end on 30 June 1991.

In March 1990, the Prime Minister announced that GIRD: will remain in place until 1995; the DGS is to be expanded to include services and market research; and generic technology areas will be expanded to include waste management and environmental management.

Clauses 7 and 8 will extend the life of the DGS and GTS to 30 June 1994

The National Procurement Development Program (NPDP) was established in September 1987. The Government allocated $16 million over three years for grants under this scheme. NPDP grants are designed to provide support for two types of project: RD on new internationally competitive Australian products which meet the requirements of government departments and agencies; the demonstration and trial of prototypes; and new internationally competitive products within government departments or agencies to provide evaluation or endorsement. In 1989-90, the NPDP Committee approved sixteen projects valued at $4.8 million. In addition, 24 agreements were signed and funded under the NPDP to the value of $8.4 million. To date, 56 projects valued at $16.9 million have been funded under the NPDP. Examples of NPDP funded projects include a sewage disinfection and clarification system employing membrane technology and containing environmental benefits; an artificially intelligent document abstracter that reads and summarises English language documents; and a digital vision reader for passport and visa processing. The operating life of the NPDP ceased on 30 June 1990.

In a News Release of 26 October 1990, the Minister announced that the industry Ministers of the Commonwealth, States and Territories had signed an agreement to expand the NPDP to include the participation of State and Territory Governments. The proposed national program is intended to operate until June 1995. The States and Territories have committed about $2 million to the program's operation in the first year, while Commonwealth funding will be $7.2 million and $7.4 million for the first and second years.

A new Division 3A (proposed sections 34A and 34B) will be inserted into the Act by clause 9. Proposed section 34A will allow the Board, subject to certain directions from the Minister, to enter into a NPDP agreement with a corporate researcher and a government body. The Board is not to enter into a NPDP agreement, except in special cases, unless satisfied the project is directed towards the development of internationally competitive goods or services and involves adequate trialing and demonstration activities. The Board may refuse to enter into a NPDP agreement if it would be likely to give an undue competitive advantage to a government body that carries on business. Both corporate research and government body's may apply for a NPDP agreement.

Amendments to the Science and Industry Research Act 1949

New sub-sections 9A(1) and 9(1A) will be substituted into the Act by clause 25 to allow the CSIRO to accept gifts of value up to $1 million, or a prescribed amount, without requiring the Ministers approval, and act as trustee.

References

1. Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce, Annual Report 1989-90, p. 57.

2. Ibid., p. 58.

3. Ibid., p. 59.

Bills Digest Service 21 February 1991

Parliamentary Research Service

For further information, if required, contact the Economics and Commerce Group on 06 2772460.

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Commonwealth of Australia 1991

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1991.