Announcement “puts science at the centre of industry policy”: Abbott

The
Industry Growth Centre initiative in yesterday’s competitiveness agenda would
create better links between science and business, the government had said.

As reported by Manufacturers’ Monthly and others yesterday, the federal government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness
Agenda contained a plan for five non-profit “industry growth centres”
relevant to sectors of competitive strength.

These are food and agribusiness; advanced manufacturing;
mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; and
medical technologies and pharmaceuticals.

Also announced was a plan to establish a Commonwealth Science
Council, which will replace the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and
Innovation Council.

The growth centres are budgeted at $188.5 million, will each
be led by business consortium, and are expected to be self-sustaining after
four years.

Some of these are expected to replace Cooperative Research Centres.

“We see CRCs as having an
important role but aligned with the growth centres. So we want to bring
industry, research, development and the whole policy area into focus and having
CRCs as an adjunct to this just simply won’t work,” industry minister Macfarlane told the ABC yesterday.

“We’ll be looking at how we
bring them into this process. Some CRCs will continue and complete their
contracts; some will be folded into this process; and some will terminate.

Labor
criticised the growth centres as a re-hashing of the Industry Innovation
Precincts programme announced by the former Gillard government last year.

These are Labor programs that he has tried to revive after slashing them,” said shadow industry minister Kim Carr.

“This is a very substantial reduction in the level of support
that was provided to industry, to companies, under the Labor government; very
substantial reduction in support provided to our researchers, to our scientists.”

The growth centres were welcomed by Professor Les Field of the
Australian Academy of Sciences.

“Anything which aligns
science more closely with industry has got to be a big plus, especially when
this is an area where Australia traditionally struggles,” he told The Australian.

“One
of the things that impacts most on the translation of research into industry is
that period called ‘the valley of death’, where you’ve got a great idea but
it’s not at the stage of being able to attract investment.”

He was less positive about
the lack of a designated science minister within the government, and said the Commonwealth Science Council – comprising five scientists, researchers and educators and five business
leaders, members of government and the Chief Scientist – would not make up for this.

“We still
don’t have a flag-bearer for science and research for the whole of government,”
he said.

Prime
minister Tony Abbott said the growth centres “put science at the centre of industry policy” and has defended the lack of a science minister within government.

“The most scientifically successful country on earth is the United States, and they don’t have a secretary of state for science,” he said.

“It’s what
you do rather than what you call people that counts.”

Image: Newscast