21/01/2003 - 21:00

WA takes wooden spoon for CRC funds

21/01/2003 - 21:00

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WA’S poor performance in the latest Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program funding is a reflection of the State’s inability to compete for Commonwealth funding, according to academics spoken to by WA Business News. The CRC is the nation’s major coll

WA takes wooden spoon for CRC funds

WA’S poor performance in the latest Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program funding is a reflection of the State’s inability to compete for Commonwealth funding, according to academics spoken to by WA Business News.

The CRC is the nation’s major collaborative research program and securing funding is a highly competitive process.

Of the 2002 CRC funding figures released in December 2002, WA accounted for only 1.2 per cent of the total $478.5 million on offer, or $5.9 million.

It’s a figure that is misleading, according to the State Government, but a figure that most academics contacted by WA Business News cited as a barometer to gauge WA’s capacity to attract Federal funding.

According to Murdoch University director of research and development Paul D’Sylva, the results are disappointing.

“The latest CRC round very clearly highlighted WA’s inability to be competitive at a national level,” Dr D’Sylva said.

However a spokesman for Premier Geoff Gallop said WA performed quite well in the 2002 CRC funding.

“The State Government has a strong commitment to research and development and a lot of criticism recently has come from the latest round of CRC funding,” he said.

“The State Government, on that, finished up with a 12.5 per cent share of the total funding; that’s CRCs located in the State and in other States. From the total funding, that’s pretty good.”

The spokesman said the CRC results only tabulated the money allocated to CRCs based in each State.

But according to senior academics, having a CRC headquarted in WA is vital to furthering research.

Dr D’Sylva said it was important to have CRCs based in WA in order to claim ownership.

“If you don’t have the naming rights you are not the perceived owner of the research venture,” he said.

“If you had it located here [in WA] you could go the OECD, industry partners and multinationals and say: ‘We have this centre and we want to do this, will you fund it’? It’s harder when you say: ‘We are working on this project, located over there, will you give us money’?”

Dr D’Sylva said the CRC program provided ongoing funding to long-term projects and did not create new centres or maintain centres that received first-round funding.

“We didn’t get any awards for second-round funding,” he said.

“The Australian Centre for Renewable Energy was denied a further seven years’ funding, and we were not successful in providing new CRCs.

“We also lost out in the ARC [Australian Research Council] Centre of Excellence funding. It provides $80 million and we missed out on it altogether.”

Curtin University deputy vice-chancellor of research and development, Professor Paul Rossiter, said the State was underperforming.

“DoIT are getting concerned about it [funding issues] because we are missing out on funding. The State isn’t performing as strongly as it should,” he said.

Academics and researchers spoken to by WA Business News highlighted Queensland’s success with CRC and other Federal funding as a blueprint for obtaining a raft of funding dollars.

Queensland accounted for 29 per cent of the latest CRC funding, including four new CRCs, the development of two CRCs, and four supplementary funding allocations.

In total Queensland scooped $140.35 million and, according to academics and researchers, it’s the work of Premier Peter Beattie that has helped Queensland become a leader of the pack.

University of Western Australia director of the office of industry and innovation, Andy Sierakowski, said Mr Beattie and Victorian Premier Steve Bracks were pushing international boundaries to attract industry to their States, predominantly in the biotechnology field.

“I was at two biotech conferences and Beattie and Bracks were both there. Both were saying [separately] that their State would be the leader of biotech in Australia,” Dr Sierakowski said.

“They are competing for the contracts and putting the money in.”

The Queensland Government spent $240 million on research and development in 2000-2001 and received $119.5 million in Federal funds.

The WA Government spends $90 million annually and has committed $50 million over four years towards its InnovateWA policy.

WA receives $64 million annually from Federal funding.

According to Queensland Mini-ster for Innovation and Information Economy Paul Lucas, said his government is well ahead of the rest of Australia in terms of R&D dollar commitment.

“The growth rate of R&D expenditure in Queensland over the last decade has been twice the national average,” Mr Lucas said.

“The Beattie Government has policies in place to help grow this industry, and encourage researchers to commercialise their results.

“It’s a fast-changing world and we want to ensure that our strengths in traditional areas such as agriculture and mining continue, while we also develop and sustain new, high-value industries.”

In response to recommendations by the Premier’s Science Council last February, Premier Geoff Gallop, who is also WA’s Science Minister, said commercialising research would enhance WA’s long-term economic competitiveness.

“We must invest in scientific excellence and innovation if we are to increase opportunities in the modern economy,” he said last year.

Dr Gallop has since launched several initiatives under the InnovateWA program and is in the process of implementing Science Council recommendations.

But academics claim much more is needed in order for WA to become a research hub.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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