Oz government promises more money for R&D

December 19, 1997

The Australian government has promised to spend $555 million (Pounds 225 million) on industrial research and development over five years as part of a $1.26 billion aid package for the nation's industries.

Announcing the decision, Prime Minister John Howard said the government would also set up 50 postgraduate awards for research in information technology and an "Invest Australia" fund.

A businessman, Bob Mansfield, has been appointed the government's strategic investment coordinator. His task will be to entice further investment into Australia.

The Australian Academy of Science approved of the prime minister's statement, said academy president Sir Gustav Nossal. He said the cooperative research centres, which link researchers in universities with business and industry, had built a "momentum of cultural change" in research and industry that must not be slowed. The scheme had achieved notable successes, and the academy recommended that it be continued.

But Sir Gustav said the academy feared that the government's aim to mesh research goals with industry needs could have the effect of cutting funding for basic research.

The Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee welcomed the spending on industrial research and development, saying it represented an important change in the government's perspective on investment in intellectual capital.

AVCC president Fay Gale said universities would be disappointed because funding is still inadequate but pleased with the "fundamental shift" that had taken place -Ja reference to the government's decision partially to reverse disastrous cuts made in its first budget in 1996.

Professor Gale said she hoped that the new perspective would ensure that in future, "federal policies will be informed by an awareness that spending on intellectual capital is not a drain on the public purse but rather a critical investment in the future".

Mr Howard's announcement was a belated response to a committee report earlier this year that called for drastic cuts in research spending. It had proposed slashing federal spending on the 60 cooperative research centres from $146 million a year to $20 million, with industry making up the shortfall.

While applauding the government's rejection of this recommendation, Professor Gale said universities and industry would have preferred a reinstatement of the 150 per cent tax rebate on industrial research and development, which was cut to 125 per cent last year.

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