Address to the National Innovation Policy Forum

Parliament House Canberra ACT

JANE O’DWYER [Cooperative Research Australia CEO]: … Minister Husic says we should have great faith in the power of Australian ideas and know-how to improve lives. He says, “We’ve got a lot of smart people in this country. We shouldn’t just celebrate their work; we should support their work.” 

Minister Husic knows what it is be change as well as to drive change. As Australia’s first Muslim minister and as one of the first waves of graduates from the University of Western Sydney. Minister, we’re here today to figure out how we can help you realise your vision for an Australia that makes the most of its talent and capacity to be a sophisticated and clever country. It’s my great delight to invite Minister Husic to open the forum. 


I want to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather, pay respects to elders past and present. I also want to pay respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples here in the audience today. 

And I also want to let you know following on from Jane’s opening remarks of my deep commitment for us as a government to be recognising and advancing First Nations knowledge. And we have as part of the refresh of the National Science Priorities committed as one of those priorities our First Nations knowledge, and we look forward to developing on this through the course of this term and welcome your input on how we can best do this as well. 

If I can extend a sincere thanks to Cooperative Research Australia, and particularly to Jane O’Dwyer, not only for the opportunity to be here today, but, Jane, I’ve valued the opportunities we’ve had to talk over the years to get your advice. The strength of your belief as we all obviously share in the value of the CRC program over 30 years, it has meant a great deal. And while I wasn’t able to attend in person last year, I did value the chance also to make a contribution too. 

Thanks to Kerstin [Oberprieler], too, who pointed out we’re going to stick to the allocated times, and you looked at me when you said it and I didn’t feel nervous at all! Thank you very much. The emcee role is very challenging, so thank you for your work today. 

And there are many of you in this room that have made an immense contribution to innovation in this country and have maintained the faith, if I may put it, over years where there have been challenges in doing that at different points where it may not have been felt like it was the issue of the day, the topic of the moment in which to pursue it. But the reality is that if we do want to progress as a country – and it’s not just about economic advancement; it’s about social as well. It’s about making a difference to the quality of people’s lives. That work never ends, never can end, never can be paused. And I just want to assure you all that I share that passion for using ideas in a way that make a difference to the Australian people and, frankly, can make a contribution to global wellbeing as well. 

For Australia, revitalised science and technology capability all of us – government, industry and research sector – have a crucial role to work together. We should aspire to see more great ideas developed and commercialised here in this country. As I said, ideas that not only benefit the economy but national wellbeing. The Albanese Government is backing this in by investing in know-how to revitalise Australian industry. That’s the thinking behind our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, which we expect to introduce the legislation in this final sitting of parliament. 

Our approach, if I may emphasise again, is founded on collaboration, cooperation between research and industry, tackling some of the nation’s pressing and persistent challenges. It’s to help keep smart, skilled Australians on our shore and will no doubt help entice others who have left to work overseas to come back, which is a big personal priority of mine. This will be critical to our future well-being. We are great collaborators, there is always scope to improve, and we are taking steps in that direction. 

We know that cooperation between science and industry will support the economy, build resilience through natural disasters and other seismic events as we’ve experienced over the last few years, and create higher-value jobs and industries. And our recent budget included funding for the development of talent and leadership in STEM fields. To build that culture of collaboration from the ground up we’re creating more university and TAFE opportunities across the board. We’ve committed to measures to enhance Australia’s science and research leadership in the Asia Pacific as well to provide new horizons for cooperation in our neighbourhood. 

We’re supporting quantum researchers, paving the way for more Australians from more backgrounds to study and work in STEM-related fields. And, of course, it would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to highlight the Cooperative Research Centre’s program and its long-term support for Australian ingenuity and collaboration. 

For 30 years the CRC program has been enabling high-value collaboration between industry, researchers and end users. A proven model for driving industry-led collaborative research to solve problems, deliver real outcomes, spanning industries as diverse as manufacturing, agriculture, waste recycling, artificial intelligence, aerospace, energy, health and mining. Did I miss anyone? I’m sure I have. 

Its effectiveness was confirmed recently by an impact evaluation, which I’m happy to say we’ll be releasing shortly. And I’m wanting these types of things to be released more and more so that people – we can all learn from what’s worked well and what we can improve on. 

The numbers speak for themselves. Since ’91 the program has committed $5.5 billion of grant funding to support the establishment of 236 CRCs and 189 of the shorter-term CRC projects. Collaborating partners from industry, research, government, community organisations have more than matched this funding with commitments of over $16.8 billion of cash and in-kind contributions. So, $5.5 billion from government and then on top of that another $16.8 billion of cash and in kind, which is a tremendous reflection on how much the program and how much these CRCs are valued. 

More than 35,400 commercialisation agreements signed from work generated in the CRCs and the CRCPs, and over 140 spinoff companies have emerged out of the program. More than 121,000 publications produced and CRCs and CRCPs have resulted in over 38,000 collaborations across the world. And if anyone has thought I have forgotten a statistic I should mention – there seems to be a wave, a plethora, of these hitting you first thing on a Monday morning – let me know. I’ll include them in the next speech. But it’s very impressive in anyone’s book. 

In the meantime, to continue to build on these successes, the budget has included funding for the CRC program. 

Now, one thing coming in as a new minister, new-ish minister – Jane has now removed the new tag from my title rather unceremoniously this morning - just kidding, just kidding. There’s a lot of love. I don’t want to get upset on a Monday morning. 

One of the things I noticed is variability in the way in which the funding rounds are set up. That’s got to end. I know it seems like a simple change to make, but I think it does make a difference. I don’t want – as I’ve said before, we want to reinvigorate the value of Australian know-how in respect of what it can do, but we want to give you the run-up and we want you to know when that’s happening. We don’t want a scramble for these applications. 

So, I’m just letting you know we’re working out the final details, but I want to lock in at points in the year so that you all know in advance and others will know in advance when, for example, CRC-P will be called so you can prepare for it. It doesn’t mean it will improve the chances of you necessarily getting it because we’re all competing. I’d love to be able to guarantee that every applicant gets an awarded grant of money, but I do feel that it does allow you to plan and to prepare and that through that process enhance the quality of the ideas without reflecting in any way, shape or form on what’s happened previously because there have been tremendous contributions through the program. 

I do think that is one practical step to improve that happening, so the department is working on publishing a routine schedule for future rounds for opening and closing announcements and commencement of funding. 

But it’s not all about the CRC program; we’ve got a range of other initiatives to support innovation in our ecosystem and boost collaboration. We’re addressing some of the key challenges, helping better join the dots through the start-up year that we’re working on, the global entrepreneurship congress, the start-up nation summit, in my portfolio CSIRO’s industry PhD programs, which will support candidates to undertake research and internships with industry partners, university researcher and CSIRO researcher. 

As I said before, we’re working now and I’d welcome your input on the refresh of the nation’s science priorities, which will eventually be embedded in the new science statement, and thinking longer term about how we boost the R&D contribution to GDP from where it is at the moment to something that reflects an OECD standard. This will be a tough challenge but it’s one that I think we do need to work on. 

If I may say this: the days of – I don’t want industry blaming academia and academia blaming industry for where we’re at in terms of things like, for example, commercialisation. I think we can all agree we can work together to keep improving. I deliberately avoid it, if I may say, announcing as a commitment to action another review on commercialisation. We’ve had 60 of the bloody things. They’re all attracting dust on the bookshelves. Let’s just get things done. My big focus has been on us moving, applying what we know, getting things done. I know I get a bit of – the good thing about being a minister is I get a lot of advice – private and public. And, you know, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are very keen for me to do an industry policy, and I appreciate the energy and vim that’s been applied in the pursuit of that. 

Can I just let you know – I am focused. I am as stubborn as a mule and I am just focused on getting things done. So, I might get to that policy at one point, but please note we’ve got a National Reconstruction Fund, reforms to government procurement, building of capacity, applying it together, the national science priority refresh, looking at what we do as a national science statement, looking at what we do to improve R&D investment longer term in the nation and reinvigorating our support there. 

The start-up year, we’ll get 2000 potential firms created by getting university students to stay on one year, and by making the modifications to the HECS scheme, extending to them a platform of capital to allow them to grow their firms at a point where they can get the best advice early on to build a sustainable enterprise longer term and having a government champion entrepreneurship being spun out even more from our universities. A national quantum strategy, robotics strategy, looking at what we’re doing on AI. We’ve got a lot of work to do there from having to develop an industry policy to think that I need to do it on top of that. 

Anyhow, rant over – subtle as it is on a Monday morning. I welcome the opportunity to be here, and I also welcome the fact that I went well beyond Kerstin’s allocated time for me to speak. But I am very, very grateful, if I may say, in our great big week of science – we’ve got the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science being awarded tonight and a whole host of other things. 

This is a great opportunity to let you all know how much your contributions – each and every one of you – are being valued by our government, and we will champion these, put a spotlight on what you do and be able to give you the support beyond words to achieve even greater. Thank you for everything you do.