Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Australian Government responds to Cutler Review on Innovation

So this budget is the first one to follow the Australian Government's review of the "National Innovation System".

The so-called Cutler report, which was released last year, and a Government response entitled "Powering Ideas", released along with the Budget, are both available here.

The main recommendations of that report were to fund research infrastructure, increase research funding, increase business research funding and improve collaboration between business and research institutions. The Government seems to have responded to many of the main recommendations of the report, with its simplification of reseach concessions in the tax code, various investments in research infrastructure (great stimulus of course) and several other measures.

One big message is that Australian expenditure on research has declined in recent years relative to GDP, while other nations have increased.

So the current budget includes a 25% increase in spending on science and innovation.

Commonwealth spending on science and innovation has fallen 22 per cent as a share of GDP since 1993–94. Business spending on research and development collapsed in the late 1990s, and while it has grown since then, we still lag many of the countries we compete with. The proportion of Australian firms introducing innovations has been stuck at one in three for years. A decade of policy neglect has hurt Australia’s innovation performance, making us less productive and competitive, and reducing our ability to meet the needs and aspirations of Australian families and communities.

Meanwhile, the bar keeps rising. China’s R&D spending has grown by 22 per cent a year since 1996, compared to 8 per cent a year in Australia. Australia spends 2 per cent of GDP on research and development. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States spend more than 2.5 per cent; Finland, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden spend more than 3 per cent; Israel spends more than 4 per cent.
While Commonwealth spending on science and innovation fell to 0.58 per cent of GDP in 2007–08, Denmark is steadily increasing government spending on R&D — from 0.89 per cent of GDP in 2008, to 0.94 per cent in 2009, with a target of 1 per cent in 2010. In the United States, President Obama has pledged to double funding for federal science agencies over the next decade.

One figure from the Budget Education overview struck me.

The Government should be happy that after years for rewarding Australian academics for every paper we write, our per capita publication rate is 20% above the OECD average. Don't inquire too closely into measures of impact of those papers!

Obviously we should be very much less happy that apparently the fraction of firms with "new products" is 30% below the OECD average. This despite very healthy levels of venture capital!

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