The Australian government has unveiled plans to increase the commercial return on its billions in research funding and to pump more resources into boosting industry-science links.
The government appointed ten experts — five business leaders and five leading researchers — to a ‘Commonwealth Science Council’ to advise on science priorities and to become the “pre-eminent body for advice on science and technology” in Australia, according to the ‘competitiveness agenda’ released on 14 October.
The council will be chaired by Prime Minister Abbott, with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane as deputy chair. It will replace an existing (and some say moribund) advisory group.
The statement also says that there will be a “sharpening” of incentives for collaboration between research and industry. Five new centres to improve collaboration, and increase the competitiveness of industries including mining, oil and medical technologies, will be set up at a cost of Aus$188.5 million (US$164 million).
The Abbott government has come in for fierce criticism over its perceived lack of support for science, with many government-funded researchers and science agencies facing cut backs (see ‘Australian cuts rile researchers’). Macfarlane has previously said that the competitiveness agenda would show how the government was dealing with these concerns, by setting science at the centre of industry policy.
Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb said that the new council would “provide the strategic thinking and direction that a national transformation truly demands” and also welcomed an Aus$12 million investment in science education. “This is about improving the impact, focus and prioritisation of Australia’s investment in science and research,” he said in a statement.
The Australian Academy of Science also welcomed the announcements. Its secretary of science policy Les Field said in a statement: “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.”