In the allocation of government surpluses some areas are more important than others. Of highest priority is the need for the Government to sort out the mess in our universities.
They are slowly being squeezed to death, and the quality of Australian science is being affected by increasing workloads and a failure to renew equipment and laboratories.
Coupled to this Australians need to view public support for R&D as an investment rather than a drain on the public purse There have been massive boosts to research budgets by the Governments of the USA and Britain.
These Governments have taken a hard-headed look at the benefits - new industries, new well-paid jobs, and a better quality of life through technological advances. They have done their sums and can see that the investment pays off.
Assessment of these opportunities needs to be done in a co-ordinated way. The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources needs to bring together all the cost-benefit analyses of R&D in Australia.
There are a number of studies showing how investment in R&D pays off, but they all use a different approach. If we can establish a common methodology we can assemble a cast-iron case showing that the high-technology, high-salary path is possible for Australia.
The Wills Report on Health and Medical Research picked up a number of these issues.
I support the recommendations Wills makes, in particular his support for a peer-reviewed competitive system as a means of selecting which research projects will be funded.
Wills also emphasises the need to commercialise Australian science and technology, and his report is part of a growing groundswell of support for commercialisation.
Industry, Government and science groups increasingly recognise they have a common interest in translating our clever science into commercial reality. The mindset has to be right, and so do the taxation and policy settings.
These challenges can be tackled and I would like to suggest 10 specific initiatives.
1. UNIVERSITIES AT THE CROSSROADS
The Government must restore stability in the higher education sector through realistic annual salary indexation to help meet negotiated salary increases, and through realistic annual indexation of infrastructure costs that recognises the impact of the exchange rate on library acquisitions, information technology and purchases of major equipment.
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