National Innovation & Science Agenda unveiled

National Innovation & Science Agenda unveiled

7th December, 2015

There were many exciting initiatives in the Federal Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda (NISA) announced this afternoon. You can find an overview of all of the initiatives and individual fact sheets on each initiative on the Government’s NISA website. You can also attend one of the information sessions around the country in coming weeks.
While the initiatives announced today amount to $1.1 billion over four years (the extent to which Treasury forward estimates project), many of the initiatives (e.g. national research infrastructure funding) extend beyond four years. So the total investment is significantly more than $1.1B. It is not yet clear whether there will be savings to help meet the increased expenditure. All will be revealed in the Mid-Year Economic & Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), expected next week.
Below is a summary of the most important initiatives for health & medical research:
  • $250M Biomedical Translation Fund – Based on a recommendation from the McKeon Review, a new independent body will invest in the commercialisation of promising biomedical discoveries. The body will draw on fund managers selected through a competitive process, who will provide matching funding from the private sector. The Biomedical Translation Fund will be funded by reserving $250M in capital contributions for the MRFF to this separate investment fund ($125M each in 2015-16 and 2016-17). Together, the MRFF and the Biomedical Translation Fund are still projected to reach $20B overall by 2019-20.
  • $220M CSIRO Innovation Fund (open to other organisations) – This initiative includes a $200M early-stage innovation fund to support co-investment in new spin-off and start-up companies, products and services created by Australian research institutions, commencing in 2016. (This includes $70M in new Government funding, as well as revenue from CSIRO’s licensing of WLAN technology and private sector investment.) Commercial returns will be reinvested in the Fund. There will also be a $20M expansion of CSIRO’s accelerator program in 2016-17 to include other publicly-funded research organisations.
  • $2.3B for national research infrastructure – In fantastic news, the Government will invest $2.3B over the next 10 years in national research infrastructure, including $1.5B for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), $520M for the Australian Synchrotron, and $294M for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The Australian Chief Scientist will chair an expert group to undertake a road-mapping process in 2016.
  • $36M Global Innovation Strategy – The Government will invest $36M over five years to improve international innovation & science collaboration, including $11M for five ‘landing pads’ to support entrepreneurial Australians overseas, $22M for Australian collaborations with international research-industry clusters, and $3M to reduce barriers to regional collaboration between researchers and industry.
  • Implementation of the Watt Review of Higher Education Research Policy Funding Arrangements recommendations – The Watt Review made a range of recommendations to streamline Research Block Grant (RBG) funding, and to encourage better engagement between universities and industry and other end users. NISA implements several of these recommendations, including opening up the ARC Linkage Projects scheme to continuous applications from July 2016; streamlining the six existing RBG schemes into two programs and using simplified funding formulae based on Category 1 and Category 2-4 income and Research Higher Degree completions (from 2017); providing an additional $127M in RBG funding over three years from 2016-17; providing $18M to expand and relaunch the existing Research Connections scheme (part of the Entrepreneurs’ Program); and introducing a measure of non-academic impact and industry/end-user engagement of university research performance. The exact metrics to be used will be determined through consultation and will build on the work of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). The metrics will run alongside the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), with a pilot commencing in 2017.
  • $13M to improve opportunities for women in STEM – Commencing in 2016-17, the Government will invest more than $13M over five years to encourage more women to embark on, and remain in, STEM careers. This includes support to expand the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot project, establishing a new initiative under the ‘Male Champions of Change’ project focusing on STEM & entrepreneurial industries, and initiatives to celebrate STEM role models.
  • Coordinating Science & Innovation across 15 Government portfolios – Innovation Australia will become Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), and will provide whole-of-government advice to the Government on science, research and innovation. ISA will complement the Commonwealth Science Council, and will be chaired by Bill Ferris, with the Chief Scientist as Deputy Chair. ISA’s first role will be to review the R&D Tax Incentive. Importantly, ISA and the Commonwealth Science Council will report to a new Innovation and Science Cabinet Committee.
  • $99M to improve STEM and digital technology literacy – These initiatives include $48M over five years to engage the community and students in STEM (primarily through expanding current initiatives such as Inspiring Australia and the PM’s Prizes for Science for young Australians), and $51M over five years to improve ICT education (including support for teachers, summer schools and to bring scientists and ICT professionals into classrooms).
  • Tax incentives for early-stage investors – Investment in innovative, high-growth potential start-ups will be encouraged through a 20% non-refundable tax offset on investments (capped at $200K per investor per annum), and a 10-year exemption on capital gains tax provided investments are held for three years. The incentive (expected to commence in July 2016) is limited to investments in companies that are incorporated in the past three income years, are not listed on the stock exchange, have expenditure and income of <$1M and <$200K in the previous year, respectively, and are deemed ‘eligible’ (rules to be determined).
  • Tax treatment of Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnerships (ESVCLPs) – Partners in a new ESVCLP will receive a 10% non-refundable tax offset on capital invested, the maximum fund size will increase from $100M to $200M, and ESVCLPs will no longer be required to divest a company when its value exceeds $250M. Eligibility and investment requirements will also be relaxed. New arrangements are expected to apply from July 2016.
  • $8M Incubator Support Program – This new component of the Entrepreneurs’ Program, commencing in July 2016, will offer competitive matched funding to support the development of new incubators and accelerators in regions or sectors with high innovation potential, boost the effectiveness of high performing incubators, and provide access to research and technical skills through 3-12 months secondments of national or international experts. The program will also coordinate and promote support for entrepreneurs and start-ups through the Australian Innovation Network online portal.
  • Entrepreneur Visas – Commencing late 2016, pathways to permanent residency for research post-graduates in STEM and ICT will be enhanced (with PhD/Masters qualifications in STEM and specified ICT fields being awarded extra points under the points-tested skilled migration program), and a new Entrepreneur Visa will be established for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and financial backing from a third party.

And if you’re still keen to read more, here is AAMRI’s media release.