Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Address to the National Science Forum Budget luncheon 1991, Canberra



Download PDFDownload PDF

MINISTER FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

CANBERRA, A.C.T. 2600

NATIONAL SCIENCE FORUM BUDGET LUNCHEON 1991

MINISTER FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

ROSS FREE

WEDNESDAY, 21 AUGUST 1991

CSIRO HEADQUARTERS

CANBERRA

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

NATIONAL SCIENCE FORUM BUDGET LUNCHEON 1991 SPEECH BY ROSS FREE, MINISTER FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Thank you for your invitation today to help continue the tradition of the National Science Forum Budget luncheon.

I am fortunate to have taken up my responsibilities as Minister for Science and Technology at a very exciting time for the development of science and technology.

The crucial roles played by science, technology and engineering in promoting our national well being are being given increasing prominence.

In addition, Australia is in the midst of a major examination of its science and technology effort - further developing and refining our vision of how our future effort should be directed. More of the

future shortly. Let me first briefly review recent activities.

Over the past year initiatives have been taken to consolidate and further develop our existing strengths. Recent policy developments have aimed to reinforce our infrastructure and to harness our

science, technology and engineering effort to better meet the country's real needs, so building on the Government's strategic framework for science and technology.

Two significant milestones over the past year have been the announcement of the first fifteen Cooperative Research Centres and the initiatives announced in the March 1991 Statement Building a

Competitive Australia.

2

The Cooperative Research Centres Program is a major achievement of the Government's current term of office. It is establishing strong and effective linkages between seme of Australia's best research

groups and linking those groups more firmly than ever before to the users of research, whether these be in industry, or in Commonwealth or State governments. The second group of Centres will be

announced in December 1991.

The March industry statement Building a Competitive Australia announced a number of initiatives important for science and technology of which I will mention only two. First the decision that the

taxation concession for research and development be retained as a permanent feature; second, the establishment of two task forces to identify impediments to the commercialisation of research

and methods to improve our performance in this area.

The outcomes of yesterday's Budget are described in the Science and Technology Budget Statement, the third such Statement to be produced. I draw your attention to the text of that Statement.

While at times we all tend to focus on the changes in the level of outlays by the Government to science and technology, it is the achievements, the important discoveries, advances and commercial applications that have resulted from this expenditure that are equally if not more

important.

3

These achievements ensure continued public support for the Government's commitment to science and technology.

To turn to the Budget figures, I am pleased to report what, in the present economic climate and in the context of fiscal restraint, can only be described as a successful outcome for science and technology.

Overall there has been a 4.3 per cent real increase in Government support for major science and innovation programs.

Given the location of this forum, I am sure that you will be interested in how CSIRO has fared. Briefly, the Budget appropriation to CSIRO has increased in real terms by 3 per cent. Total

support for Government science agencies has been maintained at current levels.

It is worth noting at this point the excellent performance in recent years by the science agencies in seeking to more closely match their research directions to national needs. In this context, the work done by CSIRO on priority-setting is a

substantial achievement.

In recognition of the impact that recent changes in funding arrangements have had on a number of science agencies, the Government is to provide an immediate injection of $12 million for CSIRO, ANSTO and AIMS to enable them to embark on a capital vrorks restoration program. The program will

include site redevelopment, building refurbishment, the upgrading and replacement of obsolete facilities and temporary buildings, and improved preventative maintenance.

4

In addition to this funding, $1.3 million will be provided to AIMS over three years so that it can conduct a more extensive investigation of factors affecting the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Funds available through directed, or special purpose research grants schemes in the Budget are to increase from $309 to $384 million, a real increase of 20 per cent. These include research

grants for particular areas, such as health and medical, rural, industrial and energy research.

Support for research in the higher education sector will increase to an estimated $1 082 million in 1991-92 from $987 million in 1990-91, representing a real increase of 6 per cent.

Total support for industrial research, development and innovation, including both direct support through appropriations and the estimated costs of revenue foregone, is expected to be $362 million in

1991-92. This represents a decrease of 3 per cent in real terms, resulting from the expiration of the Management Investment Companies Program.

The success of the Government's strategic framework for science and technology has been demonstrated by the impressive increase in the level of research conducted by industry.

Over the whole of the past decade, Australia has had one of the strongest rates of increase in business research and development of any country in the OECD. Over the period 1981-82 to 1989-90, the

average real rate of growth in business research and development expenditure has been about 14 per cent per year.

5

The latest figures show that in 1989-90 total business enterprise research and development activity continued to increase, regrettably at a much slower rate.

The growth in business expenditure on research and development has been accompanied by a growth of over 17 per cent a year in the number of overseas patent applications made by Australians. This rate

in growth in patent applications to foreign countries is by far the highest growth rate of any country in the OECD, and bodes well for future improvements in Australia's conpetitiveness.

Typical of the type of business sector research that the Government has been encouraging is the 'Blue Rose' recently developed by Calgene Pacific. This project linked good science with commercial

acumen. The result will be export dollars for Australia.

In the rural sector, there is expected to be a significant increase in the total funds available through the rural Research and Development Corporations and Councils in 1991-92.

Although difficulties experienced in the rural sector will affect the level of funds collected through levies in some commodity areas - notably wheat and wool - the use of reserve funds is

expected to cushion the impact and smooth out major fluctuations in research and development investment.

6

In other rural conmodities, research and development expenditure will be higher due to levy increases, indicating that the provision of matching funds as an incentive for investment has been effective in increasing awareness in rural

industries of the value of research and development.

Having discussed the present Budget, I now look forward to what opportunities lie ahead.

In the first half of 1992 the Government will be tabling a White Paper on science and technology after its endorsement by the Prime Minister's Science Council - the first such White Paper to be produced in Australia.

The Government intends that the White Paper renew the sense of direction and purpose given by the 1989 Statement Science and Technology for Australia.

The preparation of the paper has involved an unprecedented level of consultation with representatives of all parts of the science and technology system, including the users of research.

The White Paper will set strategic directions to guide Government decision-making on science and technology into the future. It will cover all of the key science issues - such as major facilities

and the balance of research funding - which have been dealt with in the past in a less coordinated fashion.

7

The White Paper will not, as I have heard suggested, prescribe detailed priorities within which all agencies must operate. The Government eschewed this approach as far back as its 1989

statement Science and Technology for Australia. Rather, its approach has been, and will continue to be, to devolve much of the responsibility for detailed priority-setting to the people best qualified to do it - the scientists themselves.

For my part, two issues stand out as requiring particular attention - the better integration of science and technology with user needs, and the promotion of an increased appreciation and

understanding of the roles played by science and technology in our social, cultural, economic and ‘ environmental development.

I hope to receive the report of the Conmercialisation Task Force, chaired by Ray Block, by the end of September.

The question of how we make better use of our strong research effort is a vexed one. The Task Force has already identified the main inpediments to commercialisation - including a lack of knowledge within firms about how to manage the

innovation process, the difficulty that technology-oriented firms face in obtaining finance, and the mismatch between Australia's research strengths and its industrial capabilities.

There is no single cause of the problem, just as there will be no simple answer. I am confident, however, that the Task Force will give the Government some useful material with which to develop solutions.

8

The Government has also recognised the importance of creating an improved understanding and awareness of the role played by science and technology in our social, economic and cultural life. It is only in this way that decision-makers can develop positive

and realistic attitudes to science and technology.

Developing attitudes takes a long time and has to operate at several levels - from children in primary school to senior decision-makers in industry.

I will be devoting much of my attention to both of these areas in the coning year, and look forward to receiving the close assistance of the science and technology community.

Thank you for the opportunity of addressing you today.