16/01/2007 - 22:00

State retains science commitment

16/01/2007 - 22:00

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With the realisation that Western Australia’s current resources boom will eventually come to an end, the state government has placed considerable emphasis on developing WA as a hub for innovation and industrial development.

State retains science commitment

With the realisation that Western Australia’s current resources boom will eventually come to an end, the state government has placed considerable emphasis on developing WA as a hub for innovation and industrial development.

The focus on innovation was evident early last year with the establishment of a new science and innovation portfolio, headed by cabinet heavyweight and current minister for energy, resources, industry and enterprise, Francis Logan.

“To my understanding this has never happened anywhere else in the country,” Mr Logan told WA Business News. “So you never had a science and innovation portfolio that was stand-alone where you can concentrate on where we are going to go from here with our economy.” 

Mr Logan, who held the innovation portfolio until the cabinet reshuffle late last year, remains at the forefront of innovation in the state through his work relating to the four key pillars of industrial development – biofuels, biotechnology, the marine and defence sector and the ICT sector.

The biotechnology sector received a boost with the launch of the Biotechnology Industry Development Strategy in August last year.

The strategy outlines plans for the development of a phase one and two clinical trials facility, incubator facilities for spin-off companies, and state-of-the-art laboratories.

Despite the progress achieved so far, however, Mr Logan believes there is a lack of acknowledgement in the community of the sector’s importance.

“Our culture is built on sport and entertainment,” he said. “I think in areas like biotechnology it is very difficult because it is all under the microscope and it is difficult to translate that and get people excited about it.

“It is simply about highlighting people and telling their stories, like our Nobel Prize winners Professor Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren.

“While I think [the public] can get their heads around individual stories, I don’t think they understand that we have a very deep, innovative culture out there that goes across all industries.”

Another of the four pillars, the marine and defence sector, last month received a $174 million infrastructure upgrade for the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson.

The project includes the construction of a floating dock, a new transfer system, dredging of a 17-metre deep basin to accommodate the floating dock, an extension of the existing eastern wharf, site works and electricity upgrades.

In regards to renewable energy, the state government has three upcoming reports, including the renewable energy strategy, the Biofuels Taskforce report on opportunities and impediments in biofuels, and the Greenhouse Energy Taskforce report on renewable energy and carbon trading.

The government also has a renewable energy target of 6 per cent on the South West Interconnected grid by 2010, a target both Greenpeace and the Conservation Council of WA believe is inadequate.

In a media release last month, The Conservation Council suggested the government pass legislation for a 20 per cent renewable energy target for 2020, which covers the whole state and is in line with domestic and international levels.

Western Australia’s ICT sector has also been a priority, with the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation currently conducting an audit into the sector to outline the current and future needs.

According to Mr Logan, the role of government in each of the four pillars is to create the environment for innovation and its facilitation, as opposed to funding those projects they believe would provide the best outcome.

“It’s not a carrot or a stick,” he said. “If it was a stick it would be forcing people to do things and force them to go to places they don’t want to and haven’t got the money to.

“It’s not the carrot, because then we get into the problem of picking winners, which governments aren’t very good at.

“WA has a long history of government getting too involved in the business and getting burnt, so I guess it is a matter of the government not getting that involved.

“We are here primarily to facilitate and provide infrastructure and encourage companies to innovate and invest.”

This will be further developed this year with the launch of the Edge Global Conference 2007 in May – a networking forum for both innovators and financiers.

On the subject of Cooperative Research Centre funding from the federal government, Mr Logan said WA universities continued to be hijacked by the lobbying power of universities in the eastern states.

“Of the total funding pool in 2005-06, WA received about 6 per cent [down from 8 per cent of national funding in the 2004-05 round],” he said.

“I am outraged by that, because normally with any federal government funding round we get around 10 per cent which, on a per capita basis, would be our population size and what we would expect to get based on the size of the state.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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