Push for R&D to become election issue

Science and Technology Australia wants research and development to be an issue at the next election, to “re-industrialise Australia’s economy.”

STA will call on political parties to set targets of 2.4 per cent of GDP going to research and development by 2030 and 3 per cent by 2035. At present it is 1.68 per cent, way behind Australia’s top five trading partners.

Noting the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, STA calls for “a coordinated strategy across the country’s R&D investment spending, research grant agencies, and policy levers.”

To which they will likely get nods of agreement from the Albanese Government. “Re-industrialising” sits comfortably with the government’s $15bn National Reconstruction Fund, which will invest to “help grow Australia’s industrial capabilities, improve value-adding manufacturing opportunities and create secure jobs.”

The Prime Minister is especially keen on mining for and manufacturing green batteries, “we want to move up that value chain, supporting Australian manufacturing jobs,” he said in Washington last week.

New research by Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) demonstrates that when it comes to R&D, talking is way cheaper than investing.

Professor Larkins looks at new Bureau of Stats figures, from August, to find that the per centage of GDP spent on research and development declined from, 2013-’22.

Business fell from 1.18 per cent to 0.89 per cent. Higher Ed dropped from 0.62 per cent to 0.56 per cent and government declined from 0.23 per cent to 0.16 per cent.

In actual dollars, while business R&D was up from $18,849bn in 2013-14 to $20,642bn in 2021-22 and HE spending increased from $9,919bn to $12,968bn, government spent less, $3,752bn down to $3,691bn.

The result means that publicly funded agencies such as CSIRO, ANSTO and Geosciences Australia are challenged to adequately compete with their international counterparts,” Professor Larkins suggests.

This does not make business a shining knight of R&D – as Professor Larkins has previously written, while it accounts for just over 50 per cent of total spending this compares to 75 per cent across Australia’s five major trading partners, the US, UK, China, Republic of Korea and Japan.

“What is very evident is that the Federal Government has failed to provide the leadership in terms of adequate R&D investment and incentives to support noble policy statements relating to the establishment and execution of national research priorities, innovation and international competitiveness that support the foundations for new technological breakthroughs,” Professor Larkins warns.



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