The peak body for Australia’s science and technology sectors has backed a call by Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews for Australia to develop greater “sovereign capability” in manufacturing underpinned by strong local research and development.
Science & Technology Australia President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said the coronavirus pandemic had thrown into stark relief the need for greater self-reliance to produce emergency medical supplies.
“This pandemic should be a reminder about the essential equipment, supplies and technical knowledge we should always have onshore, so we aren’t so heavily dependent on offshore suppliers and open transport routes to meet our critical needs,” he said.
“Our medical manufacturers and researchers have responded brilliantly in the circumstances – rapidly redeploying factories and intellectual property to meet some of the nation’s immediate needs with ventilators and sanitisers.”
“But this should prompt us to take a fresh look at the capabilities we should always look to have local capacity to deliver. And we should see that capability as squarely part of Australia’s national defence.”
While it would always be in Australia’s interests to be an outward-looking, globally-engaged trading nation, so too was having greater sovereign capability. The two objectives are complementary.
Scaling up a stronger sovereign capability could be aided by establishing a new Research Translation Fund – which could be the vehicle to direct strategic investments by Government in key capabilities.
STA has called for such a fund to be established if the Government decides to proceed with changes to the R&D tax incentive, ensuring any savings from those changes are not lost to the nation’s R&D effort.
“We think a research translation fund could be a powerful vehicle to help Australia build greater sovereign capability,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.
“The dividends it would return on investment to our economic recovery would be profound, but it would also secure Australia’s longer-term self-sufficiency to weather global social and economic upheaval.”
Strengthening our national R&D capability would be crucial to building greater sovereign capability, he observed.
“A further way to build that capacity could be through a premium rate for collaboration as part of the R&D tax incentive,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.
“That would create a stronger incentive for businesses to partner on R&D with Australia’s universities and research institutions and tap into Australia’s brains trust to enhance their own competitiveness and growth.”