Despite all evidence, the federal government continues to act as if fossil fuels are sunrise industries, with the non-renewable energy resources sector one of five granted a share of a multi-million dollar pie as part of the Federal Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

The Government will provide $188.5 million to fund Industry Growth Centres in food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and advanced manufacturing sectors.

In a media statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbot said the industry-led Centres will foster better use by industry of Australia’s world class researchers so that the community sees stronger commercial returns from the $9.2 billion annual Commonwealth investment in research.

Other elements of the policy include increased funding for apprenticeships, particularly for students in regional areas with high unemployment; and $12 million towards increasing support for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, including a new “Mathematics by Inquiry” curriculum for primary schools.

The tech sector is jubilant over an announcement that changes will be made to the employee share options taxation arrangements for start-ups.

Nothing in the policy mentions sustainability, or tackling the challenges of climate change mitigation and adaption.

Professor Les Field, secretary for science policy at the Australian Academy of Science welcomed the news of the industry hubs, and also the creation of a new Commonwealth Science Council, to act as the pre-eminent body for advice on scientific and technical matters. This body will be chaired by the Prime Minister.

“Anything which gets science closer with industry has got to be a big plus, especially when this is an area where Australia traditionally struggles. But investment in these five growth areas needs to remain flexible, in the future there need to be new opportunities as new industries emerge,” Professor Field said.

“One of the things that impacts most on the translation of research into industry is that period that everyone calls the ‘valley of death’, where you’ve got a great idea but it’s not yet at the stage of being able to attract investment. Hopefully these centres could be one way to bridge this gap.

“The investment in industry links are positive, but it should continue to be a healthy balance between targeted, user-driven, applied research and blue sky, pure research programs. With the benefit of hindsight, some of the most significant advances and commercial returns have resulted from exploring fundamental research – such as Wi-Fi that came from research into astronomy. Curiosity drives innovation and innovation brings you new products and ideas.”

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