Second Reading Speech – Higher Education Support Amendment (Australia’s Economic Accelerator) Bill 2022

This Bill amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to support our universities in turning Australia’s world-class research into the innovative products and processes and businesses of the future.

We are rightly proud of the work our universities do in research.

Our foundational research is amongst the best in the world.

In the 2022 World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Global Innovation Index, Australia was ranked 5th in the world for our human capital and research.

But we have a gap when it comes to getting that world-class research to the stage where it can be translated into practical and commercial applications.

Research translation and commercialisation is important.

It means that we get a bigger dividend on our investment in research in this country. New technologies developed in Australia improve our production processes, reduce costs, create innovative new products and lead to greater diversity in our exports.

And yet on the same Global Innovation Index where we lead on research, we are ranked 37th for knowledge and technology outputs.

That means that right now we are not realising the full potential of our university research because we lack the support needed to bring that research to the translation and commercialisation stage.

The former Government’s University Research Commercialisation Panel considered this problem and recommended a dedicated funding program to help higher education providers bridge that gap.

And that’s what this Bill does.

The Bill amends the Higher Education Support Act to provide legislative authority to establish the “Australia’s Economic Accelerator” Program in the Other Grants Guidelines (Research) made under that Act.

The Australia’s Economic Accelerator, or AEA, Program is a new funding program targeted at supporting research translation and commercialisation within our universities.

Table A and B universities will be able to apply for project funding to progress their projects to a state of commercial investor readiness.

Distinct from other funding models in research, the AEA will have a “fast-fail” focus. It will fill a gap in the current research commercialisation landscape by funding translational research from early-stage research into a product that shows viability for industry partnership and investment.

Projects will progress through the program based on continued success and achievement milestones.

This funding will benefit projects which have high commercialisation potential but which are at the proof-of-concept or proof-of-scale stage.

And funding will be targeted at projects which align with the priority areas identified in the Government’s National Reconstruction Fund.

My friend and colleague – who joins us in the chamber – the Minister for Industry and Science introduced legislation yesterday to enable the establishment of a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.

Minister Husic has described that fund as one of the largest peacetime investments in our country’s manufacturing capability in living memory.

The projects under the AEA Program will align with the priority areas of that fund.

Value-adding in resources.

Value-adding in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Transport.

Medical science.

Renewables and low emission technologies.

Defence capabilities.

And enabling capabilities across sectors, like Robotics, AI and quantum technologies.

These are areas where Australian research already has runs on the board and the measures in this Bill will support bringing that research to maturity, utilisation and commercialisation.

AEA Program Governance

The Bill establishes a governance framework for the AEA Program, with an Advisory Board of up to eight expert representatives from government, industry, business and research sectors.

The Advisory Board will oversee the program and make recommendations for grants in accordance with a research commercialisation strategy.

National Industry PhD Program

The Bill also provides legislative authority to establish a National Industry PhD Program.

This is about equipping our PhD students with the skills they will need to better translate university research into a range of commercialisation outcomes.

The measures will provide a basis for new industry-led post-graduate programs that create a clear and structured career pathway in innovation and commercialisation focused research.

These programs are intended to embed researchers in industry settings, enhancing research commercialisation and translation skills and helping to build research careers in industry.

Mr Speaker, we are fortunate in this country to have world-leading researchers in our higher education sector.

This Bill supports our higher education providers and our researchers in realising the great potential of Australian ingenuity and innovation.

It will help make it easier for universities and businesses to work together to commercialise research, building our sovereign capability and boosting our economy.

I commend the Bill to the House.