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A national business R&D action plan by Dr John Howard

Today, we conclude our editorial series – Towards 3% R&D – Turbocharging Australia’s Innovation Effort – in which @AuManufacturing has exposed the issues eroding Australian R&D. In this edited excerpt, Dr John Howard proposes A National Business R&D Strategy and Action Plan. Download the full paper at the foot of this article.

The structure of the Australian Government’s R&D landscape is a rich tapestry of research-performing and research-funding organisations, delivery agencies, advisory and coordinating bodies, and arrangements for stakeholder engagement within the ‘Machinery of Government.

The ‘division of work’ within the government, or the machinery of government, includes 1,334 entities and bodies classified into 12 categories.

The situation is replicated at the State/Territory Government levels, alongside numerous Commonwealth-State consultation and collaboration arrangements.

Modern-day public administration and public policy undertakings are inherently complex. This is particularly apparent in R&D investment, delivery, and stakeholder representation arrangements. The coordination task is immense and inevitably imperfect.

Ministries and departments

Australia has 16 Ministries, 14 of which deliver research programmes – Education (university research), Industry, Science and Resources (industrial research), Health (health, biomedical and clinical sciences), Agriculture, Defence, and Climate Change, Energy, The Environment, and Water, etc.

Within Ministries, there are departments, statutory authorities, and government business enterprises; numerous Government-appointed boards, commissions, councils, and other boards and structures. For example, the Ministry of Industry, Science and Resources hosts 10 Government-appointed boards and 21 other boards and structures.

Statutory research investment councils

Australia has two principal research investment councils: the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. There are five statutory rural research and development corporations and ten industry-owned research and development companies that have been established under legislation.

Publicly funded research agencies (PFRAs)

Publicly funded research agencies, including the CSIRO, ANSTO, Geoscience Australia, and the Defence Science and Technology Group, have been established to undertake mission-directed research of national priority and benefit.

Medical Research Institutes (MRIs)

Australia has 58 medical research institutes, mostly mission-driven charities that receive their research funding through the NHMRC, The Medical Research Future Fund, philanthropy, and other sources.

Specialised programme delivery agencies

In many countries, the roles of policy development and programme delivery agencies are separated. This is not as clear in Australia, where policy agencies also have responsibility for programme and project delivery.

These include Divisions within Departments, such as AusIndustry and the Australian Space Agency; Statutory Authorities, including the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation, the Net Zero Economy Authority, IP Australia, and Industry, Innovation and Science Australia; statutory positions within Departmental structures, including the Australian Industry Participation Authority and Companies created under the Corporations Act, including the Industry Capability Network Limited, The Australian Measurement Institute, the ANU MTAA Super Venture Capital Initiative.

Support Machinery

Numerous formally recognised and often legislated advisory councils and committees interact with the R&D Machinery to provide research, advice, guidance, and direction. Principal among them is the National Science and Technology Council.

The Council does not appear to have reached its full potential in the context of the issues raised in this series – Towards 3% R&D. Moreover, no scientific expert members are drawn from the business community – this should be addressed.

The learned academies

Australia has five learned academies, recognised formally under the Higher Education Support Act and united under the Australian Council of the Learned Academies (ACOLA).

Science and research representative organisations

Australia has formal and informal university and non-university groupings, such as the Tech Council of Australia, that represent and advocate for their members' interests.

Professional associations

Associations of scientists, engineers, architects, and designers play a major role in accrediting courses as a qualification for entry into their professions. They have also increased their advocacy and ‘government relations activities to represent their points of view.

Organisations that promote collaboration

Business-higher education collaboration organisations are important in promoting collaboration and partnership between universities and businesses. In some counties, formal arrangements exist, such as business-higher education roundtables.

An Australian BHERT operated in the early years of this century but is now defunct. Key stakeholders may consider measures to revitalise the Australian BHERT.

Over the last 20 years, the Australian Government has experimented with several intermediary programmes. Currently, the AusIndustry Innovation Connections programme supports collaboration between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and academic researchers.

A National Business Research and Development Strategy and Action Plan

“There is little doubt that the Australian research funding and delivery system is complex and appears disjointed and unconnected.”

The Australian business R&D support framework is currently a loosely connected set of programmes and interventions that operate within Commonwealth Ministerial Departments and statutory authorities. State and Territory Governments also maintain programmes and interventions to support business R&D.

“Australia requires a National Business Research and Development Strategy and Action Plan to address the deep-seated problems that materialised with the collapse of business R&D since 2008.”

A national science/research foundation

Looking internationally, in presidential systems of government, national science/research foundations have been a major force driving research investment. Creating an Australian National Research/Science Foundation, building on the models of Germany, Israel, Korea, and the USA, is an attractive option for Australia.

The processes required for establishing the Foundation could be disruptive, involving major changes to the existing research investment infrastructure, but it could also deliver transformational change.

The Australian Science and Research Foundation could be a significant game-changer for Australian business (and government and higher education R&D).

Download the full paper Towards 3%: Turbocharging Australia’s Innovation Effort — A National Business R&D Strategy and Action Plan by Dr John Howard via link in this story:

Dr John Howard is an experienced policy analyst focused on science, technology, innovation (STI) policy and practice, industrial policy, management strategy, university-industry engagement, and regional innovation ecosystems. Dr Howard is the Executive Director of the Acton Institute for Policy Research and Innovation and a Visiting Professor at the UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance.

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