As business leaders, unions, and decision-makers meet at the Jobs and Skills Summit, Australia faces a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment.
We can either invest in science to seize huge opportunities for our economy or be left stranded on the platform as the next-generation engine of new economic growth pulls out of the station.
Right now, the world is in a fierce science and technology race. Our economic competitors are rapidly scaling up their strategic investments in science, technology, research and development to secure their own futures.
In the US, the recent CHIPS and Science Act will supercharge outlays on science and semiconductor advanced manufacturing by a massive US$52 billion. US President Joe Biden calls it a “once-in-a-generation investment in America itself”.
Australia should be every bit as bold in our ambitions.
By thinking big, we can create new jobs, national income, intellectual property and sovereign capability.
But if we don’t, Australia faces the grave risk that our country will end up as a consumer, not a creator of new technologies. We will deepen our reliance on other nations. And we will be forced to buy in the scientific and technological breakthroughs that will support society into the future.
So how can Australia seize the “future powered by science” that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outlined in his Science Vision Statement?
Science & Technology Australia has proposed five policy fixes in science jobs and skills to ensure our country can keep up with our economic competitors.
First, we need a new shared story about being a nation strong in science and smarts – Australia as a rising global science and technology superpower. And we need a comprehensive national strategy to advance Australia’s science and technology ambitions.
We also need to train Australia’s first generation of bench-to-boardroom scientists – a constellation of scientist-entrepreneurs with the skills, networks and knowledge to be the country’s next commercialization stars.
And we desperately need to stop the ‘brain drain’ – currently fueled by chronic job insecurity in science careers – that drives many of our brilliant researchers overseas.
To keep more of our top research talent – and to bring more Australian science and technology stars back from overseas – we need the country’s research funding agencies to shift to longer-term grants and fellowships of five to 10 years. And we need the employers of scientists to match those longer-term grants with long-term employment certainty.
Our last two fixes are ones we’d love to see in the October Budget.
We want to see Labor’s election pledges to legislate new investments in research commercialization confirmed in the Budget papers.
Finally, we need to top-up investment for new discovery research – with a potential role here for the government’s new National Reconstruction Fund.
Because without our own powerful pipeline of future research breakthroughs, Australia will be vulnerable. We risk consigning ourselves to being a nation of consumers, not creators – and the money we pay to buy new technologies from other countries would entrench their leads over us in generating new tech ideas.
To ensure we have the breakthroughs for an economy powered by science, a boost to the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council grant budgets would deliver dividends in discoveries.
These five policy fixes would be a once-in-a-generation investment in Australia itself, to ensure we can control our own destiny.
Misha Schubert is Chief Executive Officer of Science & Technology Australia.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.