Government unveils industry and innovation agenda - October 2014

Filed under: Australian Politics, Industry Policy,

The Commonwealth Government has announced that it will invest $188.5 million in Industry Growth Centres to pursue global excellence in areas of competitive strength.

The centres will provide the infrastructure needed to drive growth and jobs creation in five key sectors of the Australian economy: food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and advanced manufacturing sectors.

In a joint announcement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the centres were a key part of the Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. They would help industry exploit new global markets and supply chains, invent and commercialise new products and services and generate new jobs.

They said the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda “sets out four ambitions that Australia must pursue to ensure job creation and higher living standards:

  • A lower cost, business friendly environment with less regulation, lower taxes and more competitive markets;
  • A more skilled labour force;
  • Better economic infrastructure; and
  • Industry policy that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.

Six initiatives to boost our Australian competitiveness will be implemented over the next 18 months, they said.

Encouraging employee share ownership

The Government will change the taxation treatment of Employee Share Schemes to encourage start-ups to attract and retain employees and commercialise good ideas in Australia. The Government will also reverse for all companies the changes made in 2009 to the taxing point for options.

Reforming the vocational education and training sector

The Government will implement reforms to Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system to give young Australians the best opportunity to get a job.

From 1 July 2015, the Commonwealth Government will invest $200 million each year to establish the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network to lift apprenticeship completion rates and provide employers with the skilled and productive employees they need to grow their business.

The Government will also trial two innovative training programmes to provide employment pathways for young people.

  • The Government will invest $38 million to provide 7,500 scholarships in specific regional areas where youth unemployment is high, through the Training for Employment Scholarships; and
  • The new Youth Employment Pathway will support community programmes for 3000 disengaged 15-18 year olds in regional areas.

The Australian Government and other COAG members have also highlighted a number of priority actions to achieve a modern and responsive national regulatory system for the VET sector.

Promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in schools

The Government will implement new measures to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in Australian schools, including through developing a ‘Mathematics by inquiry’ programme for primary and secondary schools and providing seed funding for an innovation- focused ‘P-TECH’ pilot programme.

Accepting international standards and risk assessments for certain product approvals

Building on our deregulation agenda, the Government will adopt a new principle that Australian regulators should not impose additional requirements beyond those already applied under trusted international regulation, unless it can be demonstrated there is good reason to do so. The Government will review existing regulation against this principle.

Enhancing the 457 and investor visa programmes

The Government will reform the 457 visa programme for skilled migrants, while improving programme integrity to ensure that sponsored workers on 457 visas are a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the local workforce.

Consistent with the recommendations of an Independent Integrity Review, the Government will reform sponsorship requirements; streamline arrangements for existing approved sponsors; reform English language requirements and move to a risk-based approach for compliance and monitoring.

Safeguards will remain in place to ensure that the 457 visa programme is not rorted. It will continue to be a requirement that a foreign worker receives the same market rates and conditions that are paid to an Australian doing the same job in the same workplace.

The Government will also improve the Significant Investor Visa programme by involving Austrade in the process of determining eligible complying investments, aligning qualifying investments with Australia’s five investment priorities and introducing a premium stream for people investing more than $15 million.

On ‘Industry Growth Centres’ Mr Macfarlane and Mr Abbott said, “These industry-led centres will bring together expertise from business and industry, the scientific and research communities and the university sector,” they said.

“Currently fewer than five per cent of Australian businesses turn to the higher education sector – including scientists and researchers – directly for expertise and ideas.

“Collaboration between business and research has proven to be the basis for enhanced international competitiveness in other countries. Growth centres will foster these links and relationships which are critical to future economic success.”

An official statement said the Minister for Industry would seek expressions of interest from business-led consortia to establish five non-profit Industry Growth Centres. Project funding would focus on market, value chain or technology issues to deliver commercial outcomes with sector-wide impact.

Each of the five centres would receive funding of up to $3.5 million a year. They would be required to establish a plan to become self-sustaining after four years and the Government would look to establish further centres based on the success of the program.

Funding of $60 million would be available to convert ideas with great potential into profitable commercial realities. This element, comprising grants of up to $1 million, which must be matched by the company, would be delivered through the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program.

In addition, $63 million would be available to the centres to develop and deliver large scale collaborative projects to build the capability and competitiveness of their sectors.

There would be a staged roll out of the centres from early 2015.

Mr Abbott said the Industry Growth Centres initiative complemented the Governments $155 million Growth Fund and $50 million national Manufacturing Transition Program. It also built on the $484.2 million Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program.

“Over the coming weeks, a series of Competitiveness Agenda stakeholder roundtables will be held across the nation. This will be the first step in consulting with industry and research on the implementation of the Industry Growth Centres initiative,” he said.

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