Research and Development Budget Motion

By Matt Keogh MP

24 May 2021

Watch Matt's speech here

I'm so glad to see that the member for Fairfax, who moved this motion, is back in the chamber, because, when I saw this motion arrive on the Notice Paper, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and part of me was just a little bit angry. But what I've settled on is that I think the crux of what is being done here is in paragraph 3: the support for Naturo and their research and development. What's important about this business is that I think the government might have finally settled upon a route to helping new homebuyers in Australia, because one of the prime technologies that has been developed by this business is one to keep avocados fresh for longer, which no doubt will bring down the price of avocado on toast for all of those inner-city millennials looking to save for their first home deposit in these increasing home-price environments! That is, indeed, a genuine innovation when it comes to research and development in this country—one that spreads much further than just the keeping fresh of fruit in this country. So I commend the member for Fairfax for bringing this to the attention of all of us.

But, when we turn to the real focus of this motion, which is the support for research and development in this country, that is where I really am concerned about whether I should laugh or cry. The second point that the member makes about how this government supports research and innovation is the research and development tax incentive. Despite the fact that Australia has record low levels of investment in research and development compared to our OECD comparator nations, despite the fact that we're not very good at actually commercialising any of this and despite the fact that we need to increase investment in research and development in this country, this is the government that wanted to reduce the investment in research and development by changing that very tax incentive to make it less available to support innovation in the Australian economy. In fact, they wanted to change it to such an extent that—for businesses in Australia doing research and development, employing Australians and growing our manufacturing industry, which has been in terminal decline under this government—it was driving those businesses offshore because it would've been uncompetitive to remain, with the government's changes to that tax incentive.

We're glad that the government decided to pull that idea. The government finally saw the sense in what was being said to it, not just by Labor but by every other industry and every stakeholder in this area, and pulled it. Now they're even trumpeting that they've kept something they were trying to abolish. So congratulations to the government for investing in research and development. But it is important, as the first paragraph of this motion mentions, that we recognise the great work being done by Australian businesses in research and in commercialising new ideas.

It is serendipitous that the Minister for Defence Industry is at the table right now, because some of the best areas in which we can commercialise and bring to fruition the great research and development work being done by Australian businesses here in Australia, using Australian IP, is in the area of defence industry. Yet time and time again I am told by so many of these businesses that they find it too difficult to get access to defence industry work here in Australia—their technologies are put forward, and they hit the roadblock that is the CDIC. This is a government agency that has now had to move departments; it is a government agency that, as was found in the review, didn't actually know the full extent of our capability for defence industry here in Australia. Businesses would love to be able to share with our Australian defence forces the new capability that they have developed but are cut out at the ground level because decisions were made by a prime contractor about the nature of the capability that should be offered to our defence forces, capability that doesn't include the innovations being made right here in Australia.

The loss that comes from that is that we in Australia don't own, as a sovereign capability, the IP. We don't have the development of the know-how here in Australia to present new technology and new capability, to innovate beyond that which is offered to us by foreign defence primes. That is something we need to do more of. We need to make sure we invest in those businesses, not just through tax credits and not just through accelerating commercialisation grants but by giving these businesses actual business opportunity in the biggest budget area that the government spends money on—defence.