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Productivity Commission report criticises lack of funding for science and innovation.

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Tuesday 27 March 2007

Productivity Commission report criticises lack of funding for science and innovation


TONY EASTLEY: Australia's Productivity Commission isn't impressed with the way the Federal Government allocates public funding for science and innovation. 


In its latest report it finds there's too much emphasis on funding research with commercial potential, rather than research that's for the public good. 


The Opposition argues the $6 billion a year science and innovation program is a mess. 


From Canberra, Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: The Government's own Productivity Commission is hardly known for using colourful language or being over the top, but in its hefty 800-page report into funding for scientific research, there are some pointed criticisms.  


It talks of notable shortcomings, and the need for major improvements, and warns against funding cuts for the CSIRO. Importantly, it finds there's too much emphasis on funding research with commercial potential. 


Productivity Commissioner Mike Woods. 


MIKE WOODS: What we're saying in our report is that there's been a trend towards the commercialisation and we think that it's important to raise concerns to not let that trend go too much further and in fact in some cases, such as with the Cooperative Research Centres, we would like it to turn back to the specific goals of the broader economic, social and environmental benefits from those programs.  


PETA DONALD: The report calls for the 125 per cent tax break for companies investing in research and development to be scrapped, except for smaller firms. 


MIKE WOODS: Our concern there is that a lot of that research would be done anyway and so public support or public funding of that is not adding to the stock of additional research and development.  


PETA DONALD: Kim Carr is Labor's Spokesman on Industry, Innovation, Science and Research.  


KIM CARR: I'm very surprised at what is a damning report from a group of very mild mannered, cautious, often mealy mouthed public servants.  


PETA DONALD: He's zeroed in on the Commission's criticism of the trend towards funding research with commercial potential. 


KIM CARR: Basic tasks, like the training of graduates, ensuring that we have enough research scientists, the provision of the new knowledge and the opportunities to actually deal with fundamental social problems and find solutions to social problems and not being able to be handled as a result of the Government's obsession with these commercialisation arrangements.  


PETA DONALD: Along with the Treasurer, it was the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop, who commissioned the report. She's more positive about its findings.  


JULIE BISHOP: Specifically it notes that Australian Government funding has been consistently at or above the average for comparable countries, the OECD countries, over the past decade, so that was a very encouraging finding.  


What it does say is that in one of our programs, the CRC program (Cooperative Research Centres), there should be more emphasis on public good, rather than on commercialisation.  


PETA DONALD: Do you accept that? 


JULIE BISHOP: Well I think that there needs to be a balance, and we are reviewing that balance.  


TONY EASTLEY: Federal Science Minister Julie Bishop, speaking to our reporter Peta Donald.