Analysis and Commentary

More questions than answers in new commercialisation funding

Analysis and Commentary

Comment by Peter Roberts

The university sector has has been sadly neglected by the federal government in the past decade, and yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison signaled that academic research would continue to come second to a national priority on research that leads to manufacturing and other economic outcomes.

The neglect of science is unforgiveable – witness the fact that universities did not qualify for Job Keeper and the destruction that has wrought – but the new funding allocated to research leading to commercialising public sector research on the face of it is a smart move.

Morrison announced a new $1.6 billion economic accelerator involving three stages of funding, cleverly culminating in a $150 million boost to CSIRO’s highly successful venture capital arm Main Sequence Ventures.

Stage one will involve nearly 100 grants a year of up to $500,000 with recipients required to provide in-kind support.

Stage two will go to 36 recipients attracting up to $5 million in funding with industry required to fund a 50 per cent co-investment.

Stage three will see 50 companies supported through the Main Sequence Ventures according to its well understood venture capital criteria.

All well and good.

But there were absolutely no details on how this new body Australia’s Economic Accelerator (AEA) would be constituted, who would oversee it, how funds would be allocated and how the AEA fits into the national innovation ecosystem.

Industry Innovation and Science Australia (IISA) which provides government with advice on innovation seems to have yet again been sidelined – so much for hopes that there would be one coordinating, independent and capable body guiding innovation policy.

How will any of this fit in with existing commercialisation funding through Australian Research Council linkage grants and the Cooperative Research Centres?

Is it actually new money or reallocated from elsewhere?

The other relevant bodies that went un-mentioned in the PM’s speech, and the media releases and media appearances of the acting minister for education are the industry growth centres – what of the promised follow on to this scheme?

In other words what actually is the Australia’s Economic Accelerator?

Managing director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre Dr Jens Goennemann chose to focus on the positives.

He told @AuManufacturing: “Now is the time to begin transitioning from a commodities-led economy and focus on Australia’s six areas of competitive advantage, better known as our National Manufacturing Priorities.

“By uniting Australia’s researchers and manufacturers under these priorities, we have a real opportunity to become world-leaders in each of the chosen priorities, while lifting the value and complexity of the things we make here and guaranteeing our future prosperity.”

But the bottom line here is this is yet another grant scheme, where recipients are decided – well we do not know by whom – opening the way for partisan political rorting.

Will an elected minister have the final say?

We can’t be happy if this is yet another opaque grants scheme and not funds decided by capable and independent bodies.

Picture: Lowy Institute

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