$1bn boost for science and innovation

CSIROThe Federal Government’s $1.1 billion investment plan outlined in this week’s National Innovation and Science Agenda is great news for research and development, says SA Scientist of the Year Professor Craig Simmons.

“Clearly, additional funding for science and innovation is welcome,” says Flinders University Professor Simmons in today’s Advertiser, where he is currently Scientist in Residence at the newspaper.

“We have seen significant ebbs and flows in this area over the years, creating a patchy response in terms of national support, approach and vision.

“Australian researchers are less involved in industry than those in other countries, as OECD data shows. This is a major concern for a country such as ours where a large proportion of researchers are employed in the public sector.” Many research papers contain knowledge, tools and approaches that have not found their way into practice, he says, and initiatives such as the Biomedical Translation Fund should go some way towards addressing the research-practice gap.

“Some research leads to unforeseen applications and benefits. Notwithstanding these unexpected pay-offs, I do think we can do a better job of ensuring our research has high academic impact, or is immediately useful, or both.

Professor Simmons, who is director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders, stresses: “We need to be mindful of the balance between interesting and important work that is publishable, and other work, no less important and interesting, that has widespread utility to solve societal problems.

“There is a tendency towards short-term science, scientific hits and runs, when we desperately need long-term, large-scale investment.

“We must create an enduring, assertive, proactive, nonpartisan approach and reject reform that waxes and wanes, as political parties change. If we rise to this challenge, the pay-offs for current and future generations will be huge.”

Read more commentary on the Innovation Statement in today’s The Advertiser (go to page 21).

The Turnbull Government’s Innovation Statement includes 24 measures constituting more than $1 billion in new spending over four years.

It includes the promise of more than $100 million in tax incentives for ‘angel’ investors who provide vital funding for innovative, high-growth startup companies, and incentives for universities to increase their industry collaborations to “encourage joint endeavours that produce outcomes with commercial and community benefit”.

 There also are plans to spend $48 million over five years to inspire all Australians to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in society and participate in further study and $13 million to encourage more women to embark on, and remain in, STEM-related careers.

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