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Innovate or perish - Academy of science president calls for government leadership to lift Australia's game

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Innovate or perish - Academy of Science President calls for government leadership to lift Australia's game

What do the prosperous countries of the world know that Australia does not?

Professor Brian Anderson, the President of the Australian Academy of Science, speaking at the Academy's AGM, issued a challenge to Australian governments.

Professor Anderson called on the Federal government to

commit itself to a five-year program to increase public support for basic research. This funding would be divided between research grants (through the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Health and Medical Research Council - NH&MRC), and restoring university research infrastructure.

We probably require additional expenditure of about $120 million this year to stand still, and need to identify over the next year the requirements for a more effective science base for innovation.

If Australia were to increase support for basic research at the same rate as Britain, in proportion to the size of our national economies, we would need to spend an additional SI billion over three years.

The need to boost Australia's appallingly low rate of innovation is now urgent. This challenge is greater even than tax reform. We need a long-term commitment from all strata of society and all political parties, or as a nation we face a future impoverished by economic and social backwardness. Australia simply cannot have a prosperous and secure future at the current rate of innovation in our economy.

The US and Britain have both moved to establish innovation-friendly policies, some of them many years ago. They have kept critical tax rates low and supported a strong research base.

They are now making substantial increases in public spending on basic scientific research (figures below).

Why are they doing it?

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Governments and opinion-makers of the leading economies of the world know that basic research is an essential foundation for innovation and it is innovation which has brought them their leading positions.

As the world's strongest innovators they are boosting basic research to make sure they stay ahead.

;j They know that continued innovation is the key to continuing prosperity in the future. It gives firms the competitive edge they need in a global economy, and the good jobs *··. and prosperity that go with it.

What is the lesson for Australia?

We are under-investing in innovation. We should therefore take stronger action, in proportion, than the USA or Britain.

The government should also undertake urgent tax reform that will create wealth and jobs by encouraging innovation by Australian firms through

Increasing tax breaks for industrial R&D to a value sufficient to motivate firms to innovate, and certainly to compensate for any cuts in the rate of company tax.

reducing substantially the capital gains tax disincentive to invest in new firms, especially high-technology start-tip firms.

There is no longer any reason to doubt what we need to do. The evidence is in, and the example of the leading economies is compelling.

The Academy is looking for national leadership from the government. We cannot afford to fail this challenge.

I know our researchers and innovators are up to the challenge. Australia will not be disappointed if their creativity is unshackled.

Comment: Professor Brian Anderson (02) 6247 5777 or 0418 224 852, fax (02) 6257 4620



1998 £1,507 million extra funding for research grants and infrastructure, 1999-2001, ie, an additional A$3,741

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million over 3 years.

(By comparison, Australia’s total support for basic research in 1998-9 is less than $2400 million)


1999 This year’s budget added £100 million for basic research infrastructure

National Science Foundation (large part o f basic research funding)

1999 +7.1%

2000 + 6.9% proposed

National Institutes o f Health (medical research)

1999 + 15%

2000 + 2.1% proposed


1996-2000 plans to double investment in basic research.

Despite Japan’s economic troubles, the plan is on track.

Relating the overseas figures to Australia.

In 1995 Australia matched the US in spending on basic research as a percentage of GDP (S&T Budget Statement, 1998-9, P.46). While recent relevant data are not available, if Australia increased investment in basic research grants at about the US's current rate, ie 7% per annum, this would entail additional spending of about $163 million each year just on Australia's research granting programs (ARC and


If we matched the British 1998-9 increase in basic research funding, we would spend an additional $1 billion on research grants and university infrastructure over three years.


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