Science & Innovation

By Emily Gadaleta. 6th June 2016.

Our goal is to provide an accurate summary of where the parties stand, but we advise that you also read more broadly and verify other sources of information before deciding who to vote for.

With innovation and science shaping up as one of the key election battlegrounds, the Coalition will have to rely on more than just the fact its leader "virtually invented" the internet in Australia to impress voters.

Yes, Tony Abbott really said that. 

Today’s global environment is defined by rapid transformation - every passing day sees old technologies and industries replaced by new. Think Uber, Airbnb, Netflix and WhatsApp (and robots).

Australia is currently ranked 17th in the world on the Global Innovation Index, and we're ranked dead last out of 26 OECD nations when it comes to universities and industries cooperating to output innovation. To ensure we don’t fall further behind, it is vital that we get on board the innovation train - and quickly.

The two major parties and the Greens all agree on the important role science and innovation will play in the future. Where they disagree, at least in part, is the route we should take to get there.


The Coalition (The Government)

IDEAS BOOM

As you may have heard, a key part of the Government’s plan for jobs and growth, (tired of that slogan yet?) is the promotion of innovation, science and entrepreneurship.

Their plan is called the National Innovation and Science Agenda. It aims to provide $1.1 billion in funding over a four year period to support entrepreneurship and stimulate investment. The funding will come from tax breaks to businesses who invest in innovative startups. 

One of the big losers in the Coalition’s plan is the CSIRO. In the 2014 budget, the Government under Tony Abbott announced a $114 million cut over the next four years. This has not been redressed in the most recent budget delivered in May 2016, however the Government has earmarked a further $200 million for Antarctic science and $100 million for Geoscience Australia.

The Coalition’s plan focuses on four key areas:

  1. Culture and capital – creating a culture that supports innovative ideas and improving the availability of finance for startups.
  2. Collaboration - introducing measures to connect industries with researchers so they can collaborate, find solutions and provide growth opportunities.
  3. Talent and Skills – equipping students with emerging skills and attracting foreign innovators and researchers to work in Australia.
  4. Government as an exemplar – the government has established the Digital Transformation Office to aid in the transition to using technology in government systems. It will also create an independent body called Innovation and Science Australia to guide research and the development of (yes, you guessed it) innovation and science within Australia.  

  To find out more on the agenda, check out innovation.gov.au                         


The Labor Party (The Opposition)

INNOVATE AUSTRALIA

The Labor Party’s plan is broadly similar to the Coalition’s. It’s main focuses and several points of difference include:

  1. Regional Innovation Hubs - which aim to encourage the development of innovative industries in rural and regional areas.
  2. Innovate Australia - an independent agency similar to the Coalition’s Innovation and Science Australia body responsible for endorsing economic growth and delivering innovation initiatives. 
  3. Startup Capital - government finance guarantees for startups and micro-businesses. 
  4. Visas - creating new categories of visas to attract the world’s best and brightest to Australia.

Labor also proposes to improve the way science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is taught and funded at the secondary and tertiary level. Another interesting proposal is its idea for Challenge Platforms - a website through which the government issues challenges to the public, offering prize money in exchange for innovative solutions. A similar platform is currently used in the United States that has so far given away $220 million.

Last week Labor pledged $50 million in funding to reverse some of the Coalition’s cuts to the CSIRO.


To read more, go to Labor’s webpage on Powering Innovation


The Greens

INNOVATION NATION

Like Labor and the Coalition, the Greens have also announced their own research and investment program centring on training a skilled workforce, improving research infrastructure and creating incentives for entrepreneurship.

Some of the Greens plans and key points of differences include:

  1. Transitioning to renewables - by redirecting what it says is $12 billion in subsidies away from fossil fuel industries. The Greens believe that this is the sector of the future and where much Australian innovation and economic growth can stem from.
  2. Create an Innovation Commissioner -  to oversee the development of an innovation strategy.
  3. Full CSIRO funding - unlike the Coalition and Labor, the Greens have promised a complete reversal of the Government's cuts to the CSIRO, bringing it back to levels prior to 2014.

For further reading, look into the Greens page on Science and Innovation


Minor Parties

Nick Xenophon Team (NXT)

Led by South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon, like the two majors and the Greens, NXT believe that their platform will revitalise Australia’s economy into the future by boosting the innovation and technology sectors.

NXT provides some examples of what needs to be done in order to do this:

  1. Increase funding - to encourage universities, government agencies and private companies to undertake research and development and bring us in line with other leading innovating nations
  2. Improve funding - by targeting specific research goals, increase focus on commercialization and enable research projects that are longer-term
  3. Keep it local - through co-investing with venture capitalists and utilising equity funding, NXT hope to encourage local entrepreneurship and keep Australian talent in Australia
  4. Create a ministerial position - responsible for leading a culture of innovation and entrepeneurship across all government agencies, research institutions and private companies. 

Check out the NXT page to find out more.

Science Party

#investment_in_research

The Science Party have decided not to use the buzzword that is innovation, but their policies listed under Science and Research fit under the innovation policy profile. Oh and they’re pretty keen on hashtags.

When it comes to scientific research and technology, the Science Party really want to put Australia on the map.

To do this, they plan to:

  1. Double government funding - bringing bringing it up to $18.4 billion.
  2. Increase nuclear research  - Australia would host and increase aid into researching nuclear technologies for energy production.
  3. Establish a space agency - to be called the Australian Space Technology and Research Agency (ASTRA). They would also introduce regulations which would encourage Australia to build space infrastructure and to conduct a study into space innovation and growth.

Find out more on the Science Party’s website.


The Verdict

So Uber and robots are cool but what does it mean for us young people?

You often hear that the jobs we will have in the future haven’t been created yet.

In this era of uncertainty, it is essential that our government gets science and innovation right.

If you care about how we will live, work and study in the next decade, it is essential that you review each party’s proposal to see which you like best.

Lucky for us, there is strong multi-party support for innovation and science. Nonetheless, the devil is in the detail - and each party has slightly different ideas that are worth considering