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Turnbull's $1b plan to drive "ideas boom"


UPDATED: Tax breaks for risk-taking businesses and a boost in science spending lie at the heart of a four-year $1.1 billion innovation package designed to drive an “ideas boom” in Australia.

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Launching his 16-page innovation agenda, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia was falling behind in terms of maths and science teaching in schools, collaboration between researchers and industry, and businesses taking risks.

“This statement is an absolutely critical part of securing our prosperity,” he said in Canberra on Monday.

“The big gearshift here is a cultural one – if we can inspire people to be innovative … I promise you our opportunities are boundless.”

Turnbull’s first major policy since ousting Tony Abbott in September includes a special cabinet committee to put innovation and science at the heart of policy making and a new board to be known as Innovation and Science Australia.

The new body’s first job will be to review the existing research and development tax incentive program.

Businesses will have easier access to the $5 billion spent by the government on IT each year via a new digital marketplace.

The government will also take a new attitude to public data, making non-sensitive data available by default, potentially opening the way for a new wave of apps and other digital products.

It’s estimated 4500 start-up firms miss out on equity finance each year.

To overcome this, early-stage investors will receive a 20 per cent non-refundable tax offset based on the amount of their investment as well as a capital gains tax exemption.

And insolvency laws will be overhauled in 2017 to allow businesses to take greater risks.

The bankruptcy period will be reduced from three years to one and firms will be allowed to enter a legal “safe harbour” to develop a turnaround plan.

A new $200 million CSIRO innovation fund will co-invest in new spin-off companies and existing start-ups that will develop technology from the science agency and universities.

Medical research will benefit from a $250 million biomedical translation fund.

Two major science projects – the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array – will be funded over the next decade to the tune of $814 million as part of a $2.3 billion plan to build world-class research facilities.

Two programs will replace the existing six research block grants which go to universities, topped up $127 million of new funding over four years.

A new entrepreneurs visa will bring into Australia up-and-coming talent and “landing pads” in Silicon Valley and other places.

Schools are to benefit from $48 million over five years spent on a range of programs from science prizes to encouraging preschoolers to explore maths and technology.


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