Science And Research Council

16 Feb 2005 questionsarchive
A question put forward to the Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Industry and Trade) regarding the Science and Research Council.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Industry and Trade, representing the Minister for Science and Information Economy, a question about the Science and Research Council.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Science and Research Council was an announcement trumpeted by Mike Rann prior to his government’s coming to office. One of the government’s first announcements in March 2002 was the appointment of the eminent Professor Tim Flannery as its chair. I have looked with interest through documentation in terms of any public information about the Science and Research Council and its achievements, and I have a number of questions in relation to this area. On 10 June 2002, in a press release entitled ‘Premier launches SA Bio-tech Push’, the Premier announced his attendance at the Global Bio 2002 Convention in Toronto, Canada, along with 15 000 other business and research leaders from 140 nations. In that press release he states:

While our state already has a growing bioscience industry, it is important that it be given every opportunity to grow.

In the STI10 Mapping the Vision document, there are also a number of comments that I would like to read into Hansard. Under the title ‘The Vision Unfolded, a whole of government commitment to science technology and innovation’, the following comment is made:

The state government has effective ‘seed’ programs to support local R&D and early-stage innovation.

There are references to the Adelaide Innovation Constellation which links five innovation precincts, including Waite. There are a number of other comments on page 21, which talk about the development of the constellation, and it states the following:

The government will reassess and reward STI related economic development arising from each precinct.

It then sets out that any of the grants must come under the following criteria to align with key state priorities: they must ‘set audacious objectives’ and ‘be championed by the private sector.’ My questions to the minister are:

1. What direct investment and achievements can the Premier list as a direct result of his attending the Global Bio 2002 Conference?

2. How do the state government’s seed programs to support local R&D and early-stage innovation align with its stripping of the department now known as DTED?

3. Similarly, how do the significant funding cuts from the Waite Institute align with the STI10 vision?

4. How does the government define ‘audacious objectives’?

5. How would more modest projects be able to fit into these criteria?

6. How will the government manage the process of competition among different institutions and potential conflicts of interest of board members, who may be on the council and assessing these programs?

7. Apart from the production of documents, what investments has the council facilitated, directly and indirectly, and what other projects has it supported? Can I be provided with a list with all the dollar amounts?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Industry and Trade): I can help the Premier answer the last of those questions. When this government came to office, one of the issues with which it had to deal (and which it had debated in this place before) was where the funding came from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, which is a very important project for this state.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: No; we did not.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Yes, you did.

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: On the contrary, when we came in there was no money. That is what happened.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: They did not fund it at all.

We have had this argument before. One of the very difficult issues we faced when coming to office was dealing with the fact that the application for this very important centre had been lodged prior to that time, but there were insufficient funds for the project. As I said, that has been the subject of lengthy debate before. However, I believe that it was one of the earlier contributions made by the Premier’s Science and Research Council in relation to a focus on these issues. Of course, I am sure that, when I refer these questions to the Premier, in his answers he will talk about the Premier’s Science and Research Fund, which has provided significant funds.

The South Australian Strategic Plan has various goals for innovation and research. In particular, its targets relate to the number of CRCs. I answered a question just last week in relation to the automotive sector, and I know that my colleague in another place (Hon. Trish White) has also made statements in relation to a number of bids in which this state was successful in receiving commonwealth funds for either the centre of the CRCs or major nodes in this state. From the information I provided last week, I think that this state has already exceeded the targets in the State Strategic Plan in relation to those important funds.

In her question the honourable member talked about stripping funds from Waite. Given that some millions of dollars have gone into major developments—not just the Centre for Plant Functional Genomics but also other centres—I do not accept that this government has stripped funds. On the contrary, this government has set about selling the benefits ofWaite, because theWaite campus is one of the most important agricultural research centres in the world. It is a very significant centre, where five major research bodies are located and, over the past 10 or 15 years, it has developed into one of the most important precincts in the world. I can speak from my personal experience as minister for agriculture, food and fisheries. At present I believe that we undersell the institute, but perhaps those overseas are more aware of its significance than are those who live here.

Certainly, a number of benefits have resulted from the Premier’s Science and Research Council. As minister for agriculture, food and fisheries, I was a member of that body, and it has played a key role in developing the targets in the South Australian Strategic Plan. I understand that, in relation to the CRC, those have already been exceeded, and I gave that information last week in an answer to this place.

I am sure that the Premier will be pleased to add any further information in relation to the achievements in the science and research area, but this government does regard innovation very highly. It is absolutely crucial to economic development in this state. That is why we have set up this high level council with the Premier’s involvement. As I say, it has delivered in a number of key areas, beginning in those very early days with securing the funding for the Australian Plant Functional Genomic Centre.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: As a supplementary question: the minister referred to millions of dollars going into other projects at the Waite, and also that some targets set by STI10 have already been met. Will the minister provide the chamber with specific details of those?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: As I said, I am sure that the Premier will be pleased to do that. I am not the minister responsible. I do not have those details at my fingertips; but, certainly, I am aware from my experience that, until 12 months ago, that council did play a very significant role. Of course, another area that comes to mind is the bioscience precinct that has been expanded at Thebarton. That is another area on which, I am sure, the Premier would be pleased to provide more information.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: Well, there is a big expansion of it where the Michell’s factory was—a huge expansion of that area.




Tuesday 28 June 2005

In reply to Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16 February).

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: The Minister for Science & Information Economy has provided the following information.

1. The Premier’s attendance at the BIO 2002 Conference in Toronto promoted SA's bioscience strengths and the state’s biomedical companies and research capabilities. The Premier’s attendance ensured SA would be recognised as a key player in the national and international bioscience space, enabling him to meet with international government officials to discuss potential collaborations with SA bioscience organisations.

The Premier hosted a state dinner for the SA delegation and international guests. This dinner generated of a number of leads, as did his attendance at BIO 2004 in San Francisco, which are being pursued.

2. Bio Innovation SA (BISA) was established in 2001 to facilitate the commercial development of biotechnology in SA. To date, BISA has provided $2.3m in pre-seed funds as grants to over 30 early-stage companies, facilitating over $16.5m being raised by companies through $4.2m in Federal grants and 12.3m in private capital.

Also, in 2003-04, Playford Capital committed $1.2 million of Commonwealth funds to 10 local ICT companies, with its companies raising co-investment of over $6.7M from private investors and a further $2.4M from public sources (ie $9.1M total co-investment).

This represented a 6.5 times multiplier on the State Government contribution of $1.4 million. Exports by Playford investees in 2003-04 exceeded $6.3million, an increase of 91 per cent on the previous year's achievement. This secured a further $2.14M from the Commonwealth Government's follow-on ICT Incubators Program Fund by competitive tender.

3. There have been no significant cuts' in SA government funding support to R&D, including to the Waite. Commonwealth funds for the CRC for Viticulture were cut.

4. The reference in the STI10 document to audacious objectives is specific to Mega Projects, which are described as STI projects of a size and complexity that requires a whole of government response, sit within agreed State priority areas, and are led or supported by the private sector.

5. Smaller projects should meet a similar criteria. Albeit on a smaller scale, the priorities of collaboration, building capability in areas of identified importance for the State, sound management and economic value, and expectations of the development and application of innovative solutions are consistent with those of a Mega Project proposal.

6. There is a Probity Plan, developed for the 2003-04 PSRF selection round, which includes a requirement for panel members to consider and declare potential conflicts of interest, to withdraw from assessment of proposals which may raise a conflict of interest, and to complete non-disclosure agreements.

7. In 2003-04, the first year of operation of the PSRF, four initiatives were supported under the leadership of the Council:

Contributory funding of up to $350,000 over three years to the Robotics Peer Mentoring Program.

Contributory funding of up to $535,497 to the Microanalysis Futures Project.

Contributory funding of up to $70,000 each to support the development of business cases for the SA Neurological Institute and SA Stem Cells Technologies.

The assessment of applications for the first 2004-05 selection round for the Premier's Science and Research Fund has been completed. The Fund has been increased for this year to $3 million, and the guidelines for the fund have encouraged transformational' projects in areas of strategic significance to the State. The selection decision is at hand.

The Council has also committed the Government to provide cash support in bids to leverage Commonwealth funds under the Backing Australia's Ability Programme for 6 Federation Fellowships and 2 Centres of Excellence. The outcome of these applications is yet to be announced by the Commonwealth.

The PSRC has provided leadership to public and private SA research organizations, in developing a coordinated, state-wide, strategic response to the Commonwealth's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

The Council has helped to ensure the provision of a high performance communications link to the national broadband research network providing vital infrastructure needed for continued industry development, and the provision of high performance computing capabilities in South Australia which gives industry access to one of the fastest 40 supercomputers in the world. This has led to the (South Australian Broadband Research and Education Network) SABRENet project, a consortia project involving the three universities, CSIRO, DSTO and the State Government.

The Council has supported innovation and science awareness activities, such as the Tall Poppies campaign and regional events held during National Science Week. It has also supported initiatives to improve the delivery of science and mathematics education in SA schools, including the Premier's Industry Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers to undertake industry placements, and scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and from regional areas to attend the Australian Science and Mathematics School.

A new initiative supported by the council is the Premier's Science Excellence Awards, which will recognise and promote excellence in scientific research, education, communication and leadership.

8. As a supplementary question: the minister referred to millions of dollars going into other projects at the Waite, and also that some targets set by STI10 have already been met. Will the minister provide the chamber with specific details of those?

The State Government provides substantial funding to support activities at the Waite campus, over and above the $12m committed for the establishment of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. State Government support is provided through organisations which include:

Primary Industries and Resources South Australia

SA Research and Development Institute

Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation

Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture

Cooperative Research Centre for Molecular Plant Breeding

Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management

Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of

Dryland Salinity, and

Provisor, the Major National Research Facility for Wine.

An audit of performance against three specific targets of STI10 has recently been undertaken. The results of the audit indicate:

Maintenance of benchmark levels of SA participation in nominated CommonwealthR&D programs (location of headquarters or a major node of at least 40 per cent of all existing CRCs, Major National Research Facilities and Centres of Excellence) will continue to be a significant challenge. The recently-announced 2004 Selection Round of Cooperative Research Centres will bring performance above 40 per cent when they are established from July 2005, but SA will still be under-represented in Centres of Excellence (specialist R&D activities) and MNRFs (infrastructure). The Commonwealth is developing a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy to replace the MNRF program, budgeted at $542 million over 7 years, and SA is both influencing the direction of the strategy and preparing to develop and submit bids for R&D infrastructure that will be of sustained value to this community.

There has been a 0.31 per cent increase in business expenditure on R&D (BERD) in SA in the latest reporting period. SA average now exceeds the national average, the trend is positive, and the target of approaching the OECD average within 10 years appears to be achievable.

The number of SA patent applications as a measure of commercialisation of research shows a rising trend in the past 5 years.

The national rate of patent lodgement has also risen, and SA has maintained its proportional representation in overall numbers of patent applications.