On 14 October the Australian government announced a new suite of measures to cement the role of science in Australian industry in its Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.
The announcement included the establishment of new industry led ‘growth centres’ to connect researchers and business, funding for new science and maths education programs, and a new Commonwealth Science Council to replace the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council. Five Academy Fellows—astrophysicist Professor Brian Schmidt, mathematician Professor Nalini Joshi, immunologist Professor Ian Frazer, physicist Professor Tanya Monro and Telstra CEO Catherine Livingstone—will join other business leaders, ministers and the Chief Scientist in the newly established council.
The Academy’s Secretary for Science Policy Professor Les Field said the announcement was a positive step forward. “Anything which aligns science more closely with industry has got to be a big plus, especially when this is an area where Australia traditionally struggles,” he said.
“One of the things that impacts most on the translation of research into industry is that period called the valley of death, where you've got a great idea but it's not yet at the stage of being able to attract investment. Hopefully these centres could be one way to bridge this gap.”
He said that while investment in industry links and applied research is essential, it should continue to be balanced with pure research programs.
“With the benefit of hindsight, some of the most significant advances and commercial returns have resulted from fundamental research,” he said.
Professor Field said the Academy looks forward to working with the new Commonwealth Science Council. “It is encouraging to hear there will be a new body for dialogue between the government, industry and the scientific community,” he said. “It is particularly good to see the Prime Minister is chairing this important new council himself, joined by scientific and business leaders, many of whom are Academy Fellows.”
Professor Field also welcomed the increased focus on improving science and maths skills. “Boosting STEM skills will have a significant impact on the competiveness of Australian industry.”
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