Innovation debate makes positions clear

The National Press Club’s Election debate on Innovation was an innovation in itself. NPC CEO Maurice O’Reilly confirmed that it was the first debate between an Innovation Minister and his counterpart. That in itself says a lot about the nature of this election, where science and technology is actually up for debate. You would have to go back to the 1990 election to have innovation even registering a blip on the political radar. This time it is front and centre.

The other innovative part of the debate was that both Minister Pyne and his Shadow, Senator Carr actually did address the questions put to them. At least they mostly did. Pyne steadfastly refused to give a “yes” or a “no” to the very first question by moderator David Speers, on the premise that the R&D tax concession had been cut by $900 million. Speers did have it wrong and the supposed cut is actually one of the “zombie” measures sitting in the Senate from the 2014 Budget. Senator Carr seemed to confirm that Labor would pass the measure if they come to government, but with the cut based on recommendations of the R&D Tax Review currently underway, not on a simple across-the-board cut. Apart from this hiccup, the moderator did very well in pushing for actual answers, and the participants didn’t simply stick to set-piece talking points as we’ve seen in some other debates. It wasn’t boring.

For his part, Senator Carr sought to paint the Government as having just woken up to the need for innovation, and that only in response to the polls. Minister Pyne pointed to innovation policy being the number one plank in the Government’s economic plan. He painted the Opposition’s plans as impossible to deliver because it simply wouldn’t have the money. Using Senator Carr’s own term of “industry by industry, firm by firm”, Pyne cast Labor in the role of big Government, interfering with business as opposed to the Coalition’s small Government, creating the conditions for business to thrive. The National Innovation and Science Agenda, delivered in December, forms the basis of the Government’s innovation policy, but the Minister made it clear that the NISA was a starting point.

Senator Carr made it clear that the 10-year Powering Ideas¬†policy still provided the intellectual basis for Labor’s policies, which were released last Saturday (see report earlier in this newsletter).

As far as making it clear what each side would do in a future government, this was a good debate. The differences in approach were teased out quite well and available for the watcher to evaluate. It was lively but amicable, with even a few laughs. Science and innovation is probably not the kind of issue that would necessarily swing an individual’s vote one way or the other. But the debate provided a good insight into how each party sees innovation strengthening their overall economic and social plans. So the debate was a useful contribution for helping people make their decision for 2 July.