Turnbull to restore CSIRO funding, shake up govt IT procurement

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Turnbull to restore CSIRO funding, shake up govt IT procurement
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Inside the PM's innovation statement.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will give $90 million back to the cash-strapped CSIRO and make it easier for IT start-ups to do business with the government as part of his $1 billion innovation plan.

The announcement is Turnbull's first major economic statement as prime minister.

The plan covers four key areas: culture, skills, collaboration, and government in an effort to foster greater innovation in the country.

Among the 29 measures is a $90 million funding injection for the CSIRO, which suffered a $112 million funding cut in the 2014 budget.

The plan also includes a shake-up of federal government IT procurement to lower barriers to entry for technology start-ups. The federal government spends about $5 billion each year on IT.

Incentives will be built into the tax system for small growth businesses - specifically technology start-ups - and the government will create a new dedicated agency similar to the UK's Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme.

The government plans to add specific programs for coding and general computing into the existing school curriculum, and wants to improve research collaboration between universities and the private sector by requiring "deeper engagement" for research funding.

The government’s innovation statement will also see changes made to the visa system, including to the 457 visa scheme, to make it easier to attract entrepreneurs and tech talent from overseas.

"Leading by example"

A new business research and innovation initiative aims to invite "innovative businesses" to address public sector challenges, rather than relying on existing IT products.

Organisations will be able to submit proposals to fix national policy and service delivery problems within government, and winners will receive grants of up to $100,000 to develop their ideas over three to six months.

A further grant of up to $1 million is on offer for the most successful ideas, to fund a proof of concept or prototype over 18 months.

Digital research unit Data61, the former NICTA business housed in the CSIRO, will receive a $75 million funding injection from next July.

The money will go towards using data analytics to connect disparate government datasets and release them to the public; developing new cyber security architectures; building a network linking the private sector with data researchers; and helping train businesses to make the most of data analytics.

The public sector will also be able to access a data skills program delivered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Turnbull's Digital Transformation Office will be tasked with building a digital marketplace to catalogue digital services on offer from start-ups and small to medium businesses for the public sector.

The online directory will launch as a prototype next year. 

"Working together"

The government expects to have a new industry-led cyber security growth centre operational by mid next year.

The centre will receive $30 million over four years to bring together industry, research and government stakeholders to strengthen Australia's cyber security environment and create a national strategy for the country to become a global leader in the area.

It will identify industry priorities and co-ordinate research, the government said. The centre will run as an independent company, led by a board of "industry experts".

A further $36 million over five years will go towards creating a global innovation strategy, including the establishment of five "landing pads" for innovation across Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and three other unnamed locations.

The money will also help provide seed funding to local businesses and researchers to collaborate with others internationally.

Over the next 10 years, $1.5 billion will go towards continued funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS)'s collaboration efforts; $520 million will go to the Australian Synchotron; and $294 million will be handed to the Square Kilometre Array.

And the development of silicon quantum computing technology in Australia will be boosted by $26 million over five years, to be handed to the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology (CQC2T).

"Taking the leap"

The government will establish a $200 million fund to support co-investment in spin-out start-ups that arise from products and services created by Australian research institutions.

Around $70 million will be provided from the government, while the remainder will come from the private sector and revenue generated by the CSIRO's WLAN program.

The government will also pour $20 million into expanding CSIRO's accelerator program to other publicly-funded research organisations. The expansion will commence in 2016-17, while the innovation fund will be established next year.

Tax requirements will be changed to make it easier for investors to support start-ups, with the introduction of a 20 percent tax offset based on the amount of investment (capped at $200,000 per investor per year), and a 10 year capital gains tax exemption for investments that are held for three years.

The scheme is modelled on the UK's seed enterprise investment scheme, and will commence next year.

"Best and brightest"

The government will provide $51 million over five years to facilitate ICT summer schools for years nine and ten; to establish annual 'cracking the code' competitions for years four to 12; to help implement the digital technologies curriculum; and enable teachers to bring scientists and IT professionals into the classroom.

To get more kids into STEM subjects, the government will invest $48 million over five years to expand the Prime Minister's prizes for science; boost participation in international STEM competitions; build play-based learning apps and resources for teachers; and increase community engagement initiatives like citizen science projects.

Around $13 million over five years will go towards luring more women into STEM, by expanding the Science in Australia Gender Equity pilot; establishing a new 'Champions of Change' initiative to focus on STEM; and partnering with the private sector to celebrate STEM female role models.

The government will also rework the existing visa system to create a new provisional "enterpreneur visa" for those with innovative ideas and financial backing. 

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