As business leaders, unions and decision-makers meet at jobs and skills summit, Australia faces ‘sliding doors’ moment.
We can either invest in science to take advantage of huge opportunities for our economy, or remain stranded on the platform as the next-generation engine of new economic growth leaves the station.
The world is currently in a fierce race in the field of science and technology. Our economic competitors are rapidly increasing their strategic investments in science, technology, research and development to secure their own futures.
In the US, the recent CHIPS and Science Act will increase spending on science and advanced semiconductor manufacturing by a whopping $52 billion. US President Joe Biden calls it “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself.”
Australia must be equally bold in our ambitions.
By thinking big, we can create new jobs, national income, intellectual property and sovereign capabilities.
But if we don’t, Australia faces a serious risk of our country becoming a consumer rather than a creator of new technologies. We will deepen our dependence on other nations. And we will be forced to buy the scientific and technological breakthroughs that will support society in the future.
So how can Australia take advantage of the “science-driven future” that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outlined in his Science Vision Statement?
Science and Technology Australia has proposed five science jobs and skills policy adjustments 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 intelligence – 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 scientific careers – which is driving many of our brilliant researchers abroad.
To retain more of our best research talent – and bring more Australian science and technology stars back overseas – we need the country’s research funding agencies to move to longer-term grants and fellowships of five to 10 years. And we need scientists’ employers to match these longer-term grants with long-term job security.
Our last two amendments are the ones we would like to see in the October budget.
We want to see Labour’s election commitments to legislate new investment in research commercialization confirmed in the budget papers.
Finally, we need to supplement investment for new discoveries – with a potential role here for the government’s new National Recovery Fund.
Because without our own powerful pipeline of future research breakthroughs, Australia will be vulnerable. We risk becoming a nation of consumers rather than creators – and the money we pay to buy new technology from other countries would strengthen their lead over us in generating new technological ideas.
To ensure we have the breakthroughs for a science-driven economy, increasing the grant budgets of the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council will pay 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 the CEO of Science & Technology Australia.
do you know more Contact James Riley via email.