How Australia can generate a $52 billion windfall from science and tech

Misha Schubert, Chief Executive Officer at Science & Technology Australia

Australia faces a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment when we can choose to supercharge our science and technology strengths and generate a $52bn – or consign ourselves to a future with our fate in the hands of others. Heading into the Jobs and Skills Summit, analysis by Science & Technology Australia shows how even a modest investment to train Aussies’ first generation of bench-to-boardroom scientists could supercharge our national economic growth.

Why is there a need to supercharge science and tech?

Science & Technology Australia wants to recruit and train Australia’s first generation of bench-to-boardroom scientists with the skills, networks and commercial knowledge to bridge the ‘valley of death’ in science commercialisation. Science & Technology Australia President Professor Mark Hutchinson is one of Australia’s first generation of scientist-entrepreneurs.

Under his leadership, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale BioPhotonics has created 16 startups with a combined market capitalisation and market value of nearly $520 million.

“Imagine the potential of an Aussie economy powered by up to 2000 more entrepreneurial bench-to-boardroom scientists,” said Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert.

“If just 5%  – a very conservative figure – of a new generation of bench-to-boardroom scientists achieve the level of success we’ve seen from some of our nation’s brightest commercialisation stars, it would generate a $52 billion return for the Australian economy.”

“That conservative level of success would not just create a wealth of new jobs for Aussies, it would kickstart whole new industries and create an economy powered by science.”

What are the risks to Australia if there isn’t a scale-up?

Science & Technology Australia warns the nation’s economic competitors are rapidly scaling up their investments in science, technology, research and development. If Australia keeps pace, the country can seize huge opportunities for the economy including new jobs, national income, intellectual property and sovereign capability. “Right now, the world is in a fierce science and technology race to rapidly advance societies and economies,” Ms Schubert said.

“The stakes are high. If Australia doesn’t keep pace, we face the grave risk that the country will end up as a consumer, not a creator – eroding our sovereign capability and deepening our reliance on other countries. But with bold investments, Australia can keep ourselves in play.”

“A few decisive steps now will get us on the train to a destination of an economy and society powered by science. Miss that opportunity, and we will be left stranded on the platform. Australia should be every bit as ambitious for our science and technology ambitions.”

This month the US passed the CHIPS and Science Act 2022 – a $52bn boost for science and semiconductor R&D dubbed a “once-in-a-generation investment in America itself” by President Joe Biden. The investment plan includes a $10bn outlay in regional science and tech hubs and manufacturing, and vast new investment in STEM workforce development and STEM education from pre-school to university – with a focus on diverse communities.

At the launch of National Science Week this month, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said “The most important piece of micro-economic reform which faces the nation today is infusing our economy with science and technology.” Science & Technology Australia participated in the science and commercialisation roundtable this  month leading into the Jobs and Skills summit.

The bench-to-boardroom plan is one of five policy fixes proposed by Science & Technology Australia to advance the urgent imperative of creating the “future powered by science” outlined by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in his Science Vision Statement.

  • Setting a bold new ambition for Australia to become a global STEM superpower; 
  • Training Australia’s first generation of ‘bench-to-boardroom’ scientists;
  • Fixing chronic job insecurity in science to end the brain drain; 
  • Confirming the Budget funding for research commercialisation investments; and 
  • An urgent boost for breakthroughs in Australia’s discovery research grant budgets.