Last week Scott Morrison made a critical, authentic speech to the Business Council of Australia about government, universities and business working together.
Part command, part support, part recognition, it was a headland speech delivered without the pre-promotion bells and whistles that usually accompany such an address so vital to a nation. It must be acted on because more jobs and more economic independence for Australia will result.
The Group of Eight — representing Australia’s leading research-intensive universities that carry out 70 per cent of the nation’s university research — is directly affected by the speech and commits to doing what is required for an exceptional post COVID-19 recovery for Australia.
The Prime Minister was talking directly to us when he said “we need our higher education sector and our research institutions to support our recovery” and “for this to happen, businesses and researchers do need to come together”. It has been a long time coming. For too long governments have paid lip service to the Team Australia approach needed for the three sectors — universities, business, government — genuinely to work together.
For our part, the Go8 has long advocated that the approach used in Medical Research Future Fund be used to invest across the broader research sector so we can successfully develop essential research translation capability and maximise the economic benefits of excellent research in national priority areas such as defence, agriculture and advanced manufacturing.
We must grow to become a far more sovereign nation so we can have many more announcements such as the one last week on the largest flu vaccine plant in the southern hemisphere to be built in Melbourne as a joint venture between government and biotech company CSL.
If COVID-19 has driven one message it’s that our nation has learned some harsh lessons about being too reliant on others to supply us an end product. But it also has enabled government to see what true collaboration between universities and business can enable, as companies pivoted at speed to deliver products Australia required.
No one is saying we must become a totally independent nation, but the Prime Minister’s words provide not only hope but also reality. His new expert research panel comprises can-do, outcomes-focused chief executives. As Morrison said: “The importance of our world-class science and research community and the role it can play is vital to claiming that new ground on the other side of COVID-19.”
Attracting the significant funding to have this welcome commitment become reality for the long term must be high on the expert panel’s priorities because our university research is worth investing in.
The Prime Minister has issued a challenge and an economic direction for business, government and universities. For our part, the Go8 is committed to it.