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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11511


Mr WILLIAMS (Hindmarsh) (11:30): I want to start by examining what the CSIRO are doing because I think it is quite informative as to the new direction that their chief executive, a former Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Larry Marshall, is taking them in. He talked recently about the original spin-off on wi-fi. We have heard from other members in the chamber about the great innovations in Australian industry and coming out of the CSIRO and other organisations. Regarding wi-fi, Mr Marshall said that, if the CSIRO had invested in the technology, the return would have been greater and achieved faster. He said the original spin-off, Radiata, turned a $6 million investment into several hundreds of millions of dollars over four years. That was a great return in many respects—you would not deny that—but he also compared that with a US wi-fi company called Atheros, which had a $1.8 billion market value, ran for over a decade, made hundreds of millions of dollars and employed thousands of people.

This is what the member for Charlton quite correctly talked about—getting better bang for the buck and getting better return on an investment—and this is where the challenge lies. It is not in how much money; it is in our return and doing the best we can with the finite taxpayer's dollar. The member for Charlton also mentioned culture change, and that is something that the new CEO of CSIRO has alluded to—a change in approach, a change in mindset and a better outcome for not just that organisation but Australian inventors and the Australian commercialisation sector as a whole.

I want to move to where the government is currently at with some of its innovation policies. This is a very important motion, and I congratulate the member for Forrest on bringing it forward. In my home state of South Australia, we have organisations like the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, SAMHRI, the biotechnology precinct and the Australian School of Petroleum, which is a close collaboration between the University of Adelaide and one of our largest companies, Santos. We have hundreds of millions of dollars going into these organisations, which is very important and needs to continue. In addition to that, there have been some new areas of policy debate. I applaud Universities Australia on their Keep it clever: policy statement 2016, which was recently released. It is designed to generate a national conversation about the role of university education and research and collaboration with industry in particular. At first glance, it has some worthwhile initiatives to consider that build upon the existing programs to achieve greater industry and university engagement and collaboration. I want to touch on a few because I believe they have merit: to invest in a major technology and innovation program, to establish an innovation board, to create a student innovation fund and to introduce a premium tax concession rate for business collaboration with universities on R&D. We are doing some of these things already, whether through government policy initiatives or existing policy. The Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda is also important in this context with the way that it encourages industry and researchers to collaborate, creates a lower cost, business-friendly environment, and improves work skills and infrastructure investment. It is a sizeable program. There is over $200 million across those areas where we have a competitive advantage: advanced manufacturing, food and agribusiness, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, mining equipment, technology and services, and oil and gas and energy resources.

On these areas, I want to talk briefly about the cooperative research centres because they often go unnoticed in our discussion about this. There are 34 active CRCs. I have visited one in my electorate, Deep Exploration Technologies, and seen the important work it does. It was established to address the most significant challenge to the future of the minerals industry in Australia: the reduction in inventory and achieving more mineral exploration success. It has collaborations with Boart Longyear, a company located near the CRC, BHP Billiton, CSIRO and University of Adelaide.

So there are some good things happening already. Yes, we have to work on changing the approach. I want to return to Larry Marshall's contribution here. He said:

So, when I look at Australia's innovation dilemma and I look at us measuring everything by science excellence and citations and publications, I think that is the wrong measure.

He thinks that there needs to be a different measure that 'measures impact or collaboration'. I agree. We need a different approach and a different mindset where we aim to get a better return on investment. We have the right organisations and the right infrastructure. This is why the Prime Minister, Christopher Pyne and the Assistant Minister for Science, Karen Andrews, are all working along these lines—to make sure we optimise our investment.