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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8471

Research and Innovation

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:47): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Will the minister advise the Senate how the Australian government's research and innovation agenda provides a strong platform to grow jobs and build global research and education networks?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:48): I thank Senator Back for his question. I know that Senator Back, like all senators on this side, acknowledges that sound investment in effective research and the commercialisation of that research is essential for Australia's capacity to adapt into the future to be able to address many of the challenges we face in the changing and dynamic workforce environment and global economy that we operate in. Over the forward estimates our government has committed $10.7 billion to research activities across my own portfolio, and across government, in the 2015-16 financial year alone, we will spend some $9.7 billion on investment in science, research and innovation.

The government will invest more than $3 billion over the next four years in the highest quality research relating to the discovery of new ideas and the advancement of knowledge through the Australian Research Council. I am delighted that I recently had the opportunity of announcing many of the ARC's Discovery Projects grants, with some 44 new research projects commencing in 2015 in Senator Back's home state alone—$16 million of funding going into Western Australia as part of a much broader and larger government investment.

The funding in WA alone will support research into robotics, new healthcare products and scientific literacy—just to name a few areas. One of the particular projects that is extraordinarily exciting, the Murchison Widefield Array telescope, which is a Curtin University project, is receiving more than $1 million of support. This is a forerunner to the large Square Kilometre Array, which will seriously advance Australia's scientific capacity and knowledge. It is a project of which Western Australians are all rightly proud, but the whole nation should be proud of what projects like this will deliver in positioning Australia to be a clever and successful nation in the future.

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:50): I thank Senator Birmingham for his answer. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of the benefits of improved incentives for engagement for universities and research institutions in Australia?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:50): That is a very important question. It is why in May this year the government released the Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research strategy, which does, in part, seek to make sure that the incentives are right for universities and industry to work together and is a key element of the overall innovation agenda that this government is looking to further develop in the remainder of this year and beyond. We recognise that while Australia has enjoyed nearly a quarter of a century of uninterrupted economic growth there are great threats to that from the disruption to traditional jobs and industries occurring around the world. Our universities and research institutions must be at the forefront of ensuring that we remain competitive globally into the future. The 2015 Global Innovation Index ranked Australia 17th out of 141 countries but behind countries like Switzerland, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands. We must lift our game, especially in the areas of collaboration between researchers and industry and the commercialisation of our research.

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:51): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister update the Senate on any risks to the realisation of the benefits that he has outlined?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:45): The risks I see include scepticism from those opposite, who do not seem to want to embrace the government's sound innovation agenda and the plans this government is developing to lay the foundation for the future. We know that to be successful in the future Australia must be a country that is more agile. We must be a country that is more nimble. We must innovate as a nation. We must make sure that we are creative as a nation. We must make it easier for start-ups to raise capital. We must be more attractive for angel investors to invest in. We must encourage greater collaboration between business and researchers. All of those things will be part of the innovation statement that our government is developing that will be finalised during the course of this year. We have seen, through the ARC grants already provided, great capacity and skills amongst our researchers. This government is determined to support them, to work with industry to achieve even greater success in the future.