news New Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne appears to have mildly misled the public on the Government’s approach to funding innovation, pushing the Coalition’s credentials in the space without mentioning the significant amount of programs and funding Tony Abbott’s administration has cut over the past several years.
This morning Labor launched a series of policies designed to create a more innovative Australian economy, bolstering entrepreneurship and participation in startup companies. One of the first policies detailed by the party would see a Labor Government extend the HELP system to allow university students to take 12 months after their degree to launch their own startup.
Pyne — who was sworn in on Monday as the nation’s new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister as part of Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet, issued a statement in response.
The Turnbull Government wants to encourage ideas for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, but they need to be good ideas,” Pyne said.
“Innovation and job creation has been and will continue to be a strong focus of the Coalition Government. Innovation has to be more than a political buzzword, it’s the only option for our economy if we are to maintain our current standard of living.”
“While Labor appears to have a sudden new found desire to promote innovation in Australia, a better start would be for them to support for the China Free Trade Agreement. The Labor Party should work with the Government to help create the jobs for the future and the China Free Trade Agreement is critical for job creation,” he said.
Pyne claimed that for two years now the Coalition Government had implemented a range of programs designed to drive innovation, create jobs and streamline Australia’s approach to industry policy. These initiatives, the Minister claimed, are designed to help boost Australia’s innovation and commercialisation outcomes and include: The R&D Tax Incentive, the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, the Industry Growth Centre Initiative, the Cooperative Research Centres Programme and the Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research Strategy.
“Over two years we have worked hard to drive innovation, however there is much more to be done and we will have more to say in the months ahead,” Pyne said.
However, Pyne neglected to mention that the Coalition has driven substantial cuts in these areas over the past several years.
In the 2014 Budget, for example, the then-Abbott Government abolished key early stage innovation industry support vehicles Commercialisation Australia and the Innovation Investment Fund (IIF), with the pair and others being rolled into a new body dubbed the ‘Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme’.
The Government also cut the funding of ICT research group National ICT Australia and chopped the Interactive Games Fund, which had been supporting the video game development scene.
The budget papers made clear that the following industry support programs would cease operations from 1 January 2015: Australian Industry Participation; Commercialisation Australia; Enterprise Solutions; Innovation Investment Fund; Industry Innovation Councils; Enterprise Connect; Industry Innovation Precincts; and Textile, Clothing and Footwear Small Business and Building Innovative Capability.
“The Government will start by abolishing a range of industry assistance programmes, saving over $845 million. We will refocus our effort on innovation and self‑reliance,” said then-Treasurer Joe Hockey in his Budget speech. “Businesses should stand or fall on their ability to produce the goods and services that people actually want.”
In their place, the 2014 Budget provided a much smaller amount — $484.2 million over five years from 2013-14 — to establish the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme.
The moves earned the Government instant and direct criticism from the ICT startup and venture capital sectors.
Steven Baxter, board member, StartupAUS, managing director River City Labs and co-founder of highly successful telco PIPE Networks, said at the time: “The reality is there’s nothing in this budget that indicates the government wants to support tech startups in Australia. The concerning top-level conclusion is that a “saving” of $845.6 million over five years is another way of saying the government will reduce its support for innovation by nearly $170 million a year.”
And the Australian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (AVCAL) specifically criticised the removal of the IIF, which it said had been highly successful over its extended tenure. “Abolishing the Innovation Investment Fund represents a major set-back to Australia’s capacity to foster a stronger venture capital industry that can drive businesses in the new corridors of economic growth for our future,” said AVCAL chief executive Yasser El-Ansary at the time.
“Great #innovation policy announcement today,” El-Ansary wrote on Twitter today with respect to the Labor announcement.
It’s one thing for the Coalition to critique Labor policies on innovation — that’s completely normal and par for the course. However, it’s quite another for the Coalition to claim that it’s own track record in the area has been stellar.
The reality is that Tony Abbott’s administration has cut funding for innovation-style programs substantially over the past several years.
New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been very vocal about his desire to see Australia’s transition onto a more agile, innovative footing. But the reality is that — with the exception of a couple of policies such as the Employee Share Scheme legislation — in the past two years the Coalition has been all about suporting Australia’s legacy resources and manufacturing industries, while directly chopping support for innovation.
It is this reality that Turnbull and Pyne will need to deal with if they are to realise Turnbull’s vision. They will have to actually do things — and not just talk about them.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting