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Springborg ambivalent about science and technology policy

Resource type: News

The Australian |

THE spectacular rise of the bioscience and medical innovation sector in Brisbane did not rate a mention in Queensland Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg’s speech to the Committee for Economic Development yesterday.

The omission followed a day after the potential premier and Liberal National Party candidate for the March21 state election promised to let Queenslanders decide if they still wanted to be known as the SmartState. The LNP also confirmed that it didn’t have a science and technology policy yet, although LNP shadow treasurer and future growth spokesman Tim Nicholls told the HES he was finalising it.

The developments are likely to send shudders through the ranks of thousands of high-powered researchers attracted to Brisbane in recent years as the economy diversifies from primary industries, mining and tourism to include bioscience, biomedicine, nanotechnology and other research and development.

In partnership with the Labor Government, local universities and research hospitals have leveraged almost $1 billion of investment from $226 million in bequests from Atlantic Philanthropies, much of it in Queensland.

The University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology have benefited from scores of millions of dollars in new laboratories and infrastructure that have been used to attract researchers from interstate and overseas, UQ deputy vice-chancellor research David Siddle told the HES.

It is not known whether further leveraged deals were in the works before the Government went into caretaker mode, but in forward estimates last year Labor committed $120million under its SmartState strategy for 2008-12.

The funding features $23.3 million to attract and retain the best minds in science and industry, $16 million for an Innovation Skills Fund and other funds for commercialisation of R&D, research collaborations, proof of concept and investment ready funds.

Asked if the LNP promised to maintain Labor’s $120 million commitment, Mr Nicholls lent bipartisan support for the knowledge-based industries and promised that “we will maintain the funding support. (However,) we reserve the right to allocate those funds, after heavy consultation with the biotech industry, to directly maintain programs that are 80 per cent through.

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

The alternative strategy was necessary to preserve the basis of the industry as venture capital for R&D dried up, he said.