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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 981

Innovation and Science

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator Sinodinos. Can the minister explain the importance of investing in Australia's science capabilities?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (14:26): Thank you to the honourable senator for her question, coming as she does from Victoria, which is the home of many of our great scientific and research organisations. Investing in Australia's research and science capabilities has been pivotal throughout our history and will continual to be so into our future. It plays an essential role in the quality of our lives, from the economy into our health. That is why we are looking as a nation at where our investment in science and research can be used to most effect in the national interest. We are doing that collaboratively with the science and research community, through our Chief Scientist, and with industry, through Innovation and Science Australia.

We understand that our investment now facilitates the creation of new ideas tomorrow. Looking no further than CSIRO, a world-leading public research body responsible for scientific discoveries that span our history as well as our homes, from some of the most big-picture inventions, like wifi, through to the more mundane, perhaps, but very useful, like Aeroguard. It was CSIRO that designed the world's first plastic bank notes with optical variable devices to help secure currency against forgery, a solution which has brought integrity to our currency system both here and abroad.

CSIRO is not alone. We have critical infrastructure across the government which also quietly contributes to our ongoing success as a country. Recently our investment in the Australian synchrotron assisted the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia's oldest and most venerable research institute, to develop a drug called Venetoclax, a drug which targets chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a prominent cancer that 1,300 people each year are diagnosed with. The use of the synchrotron enabled researchers to map the protein structures of the cancer, allowing a more targeted and effective treatment with fewer side effects. There are countless other examples which highlight the enormous value of our science investment for the nation as a whole.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hume, a supplementary question.

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:28): Can the minister update the Senate on the findings of the Performance review of the Australian science and research system?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (14:28): Thank you. For those who do not know, Innovation and Science Australia, which looks at innovation and science across the whole of government, recently released its Performance review of the Australian science and research system. The review examined how well we create knowledge, how well we transfer that knowledge and how well our businesses apply that knowledge in developing new goods and services. It found we have the fourth-highest proportion of innovative small- and medium-sized enterprises in the OECD, with 58 per cent introducing new products and process innovations. It found that as a nation we are good at coming up with good ideas but we need to work on turning those ideas into a reality. Our diverse backgrounds, strong risk appetite and major investment in research support an environment ripe for a transitioning economy.

The review found that we had world-class researchers and great research-to-research collaboration, but we need to build stronger links between our research and business communities. This review allows us to measure our improvement and to identify our weaknesses. It provides data to help us plan for a more prosperous future. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hume, is there a final supplementary question?

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:30): Can the minister explain why a long-term strategic direction for the Australian innovation, science and research system is critical?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (14:30): We have had a sustained period of economic growth in the last 25 years, which has delivered jobs and improved living standards. On average we enjoy some of the longest lives, best quality services and most livable communities in the world. But as we look forward to 2030 considerable changes await. It is essential we invigorate our growing markets if we are to have a prosperous future. Our science and research capability is core to that prosperity. We are focused on creating a smart nation which draws on this strong research to help boost our economy. We are doing that through our National Innovation and Science Agenda. Innovation and Science Australia is putting together a plan on how we prioritise our innovation and spend over the period to 2030. It is a plan which, I hope, both sides of politics will be able to look back on and say that it created a bipartisan commitment to strengthening our science and innovation capability in the interests of all Australians.