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‘Safety first’ for hi-tech funding

Resource type: News

The Australian |

THE Liberal National Party is considering redirecting $120 million in Smart State funds away from risky start-ups to hi-technology companies struggling to remain viable, if it wins government.

Opposition treasury spokesman Tim Nicholls told The Australian a defensive, risk-averse strategy was necessary as venture capital funds “dried up” in the financial crisis.

A day after LNP leader Lawrence Springborg promised to let Queenslanders decide if they still wanted to be known as the Smart State, Mr Nicholls said: “We will maintain the ($120 million) funding support. (However) we reserve the right to allocate those funds — after heavy consultation with the biotech industry — to directly maintain programs that are well on the way to finalisation.

“There’s no use spending on the same research program when the industry says it could be better allocated to another area to keep companies alive and viable.”

Although the LNP has yet to finalise a science and technology investment policy, Mr Nicholls’s comments signal a shift away from high-risk research and development that promises advances in health and innovation towards private sector projects, to protect employment.

“In the past, this amount was allocated to a certain part of the knowledge base, but in view of the financial circumstances now, the money should go to particular projects that are well advanced because that’s where an immediate value in jobs and earning potential is,” the Treasury spokesman said.

Mr Nicholls’s promise of “a serious investment in innovation and knowledge-based industries”, follows a dramatic diversification of the agriculture, mining and tourism-based economy over recent years to include high-technology industries.

Starting when the Beattie government was in power, the University of Queensland, QUT and research hospitals have leveraged almost $1 billion of investment from $226 million in bequests by Atlantic Philanthropies, much of it in Queensland.

Thousands of high-powered bioscience, biomedicine and nano-technology researchers have been attracted to UQ, the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and elsewhere as a laboratory building program worth scores of millions of dollars has come online.

Mr Nicholls said he did not want to see the research infrastructure, developed under the Labor Government, and which would continue to help modernise the state’s traditional industries, “move overseas or shut down”.

“Queensland will still be a resource-based state for a considerable time, but knowledge-based industries have a real capacity to add to and diversify those industries,” he said.

Mr Nicholls nominated better crops, clean-coal technology and aluminium as research priorities for Queensland.

University of Queensland deputy vice-chancellor for research David Siddle said state government investment over the past decade had helped trigger the recruitment of about 1000 researchers from interstate and overseas to UQ alone.

“Queensland has advanced significantly in terms of being a knowledge-based economy and we’d like to see that continue and that requires an ongoing investment base in development and research,” he said.

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QUT, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, University of Queensland