By Peter Roberts
Something old and something new has gone into the recipe for the federal government’s new $392 million Industry Growth Program which was announced yesterday.
Ostensibly the programme is a replacement for the Industry Growth Centres (IGCs) which saw the establishment of six industry growth centres, now at, or past the end of their lives.
This in itself replaced a similar scheme – with different centres established – with both an attempt to move towards a successful European model which sees Catapult centres in the UK and Fraunhofer organisations in Germany provide critical support to innovating companies.
While they provided funding and some advice, neither Australian scheme had the key ingredient of the UK and German centres – dedicated research infrastructure which could be contracted out to industry.
This has always been a step too far for Australian policymakers, whereas there are numerous university industry centres and of course CSIRO which could have been expanded to fulfil such a role.
We do have a developing maritime industries model in the Factory of the Future joint venture between Flinders University and BAE Systems Australia at the Tonsley innovation precinct in Adelaide – this has previously attracted $10 million in federal funding.
Fast forward to 2023 and Labor’s headline policy for industry is the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund – a great innovation but one which left little room for a continuation of the IGUs.
And what we have is the just opened Industry Growth Program, which turns out to be a service made up of business advisers who are backed by the possibility of grants worth between $50,000 and $5 million.
So it is a bit like AusIndustry’s business adviser service, and a bit like the Industry Growth Centres.
They are also a bit like the former National Industry Extension Service, a highly successful but long-gone programme run by the states and the Commonwealth in the 1990s.
The reality is this, while welcome, is no substitute for Catapult or Fraunhofer.
Given the size of the NRF it is perhaps all industry minister Ed Husic was able to extract from the Albanese government, one which talks the talk of manufacturing but simply does not have value-adding and manufacturing at the centre of its policymaking.
It may be churlish not to thank the federal government for the crumbs we have been thrown.
The Industry Growth Program is painfully small though will no doubt do some good for some companies.
Despite drawing on history for inspiration, the government’s mix though – not withstanding the NRF – is destined not to move the needle of industrial decline which has afflicted Australian industry for decades.
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