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Innovation Agenda turns 1, But Has it Delivered?

Thursday, 08 Dec 2016

IA

Further shake-up predicted before year’s end.

It’s the first anniversary of the Government’s ambitious $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) and the verdict is mixed.

The Government believes it has “come a long way in a year” and that “elements of the agenda have taken shape”, including one of the bigger ticket items – the CSIRO innovation fund – which managed to scrape its launch just inside NISA’s first year.

But ask opposition spokesman for innovation, industry, science and research Kim Carr’s for his assessment, and the picture is slightly different: the “2015 version of NISA blew hard” – he says – “with little detail and not nearly enough funding.”

The reality is that NISA’s first year of operation probably falls somewhere between those two points.

The Government’s assessment is certainly a more subdued take than the bullish innovation and “ideas boom” pitch that it took to this year’s federal election.

The election result left NISA’s future uncertain.

“The policy suite, including incentives for start-ups, research and collaboration, might have been worthy and necessary, but as a key plank in the Coalition’s re-election pitch, there is growing consensus it was a failure,” Fairfax opined post-election.

“The view inside and outside party ranks is that the PM’s excitement was not shared by voters, particularly in marginal suburban and regional seats.”

“Innovation politics had paid out some harsh lessons for the Coalition,” Australian Centre for Innovation executive director Ron Johnston said in The Conversation.

“It seems the message of an exciting future through innovation and high-tech start-ups has palpably failed to engage the Australian community.”

The election hangover forced Malcolm Turnbull to shake up ministerial representation for innovation.

The Government would ultimately recommit to NISA, albeit in a somewhat rebooted form. Innovation Minister Greg Hunt in August laid out plans for a second and third stage of NISA, as well as well as a broader definition of innovation in a bid to shore up support from the business sector.

However, a further revamped NISA has been rumoured for months, and Carr speculates that it could come later this month when Treasury lays out the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) on December 19.

The Government did manage a late flurry of activity around the present NISA over the past week.

On Sunday December 4, it managed to see the CSIRO Innovation Fund launched.

The fund is designed to “support co-investment in new spin-out and start-up companies, and SMEs engaged in the translation of research generated in the publicly-funded research sector.”

The Government chipped in $70 million from its $1.1 billion NISA warchest; another $30 million will be drawn from royalties received by the CSIRO for its wireless LAN patents, and the remaining $100 million from “additional private sector investment”, though it was not clear if this had been secured.

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