Budget 2017: a glimmer of support for innovation and advanced manufacturing


Drew Evans, University of South Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda was a call to arms for Australia’s research and industry sectors to collaborate and drive our economy. The Conversation

One and a half years on, you’d be excused for thinking a few pages of notes were missing from Budget 2017. Specifically no comment was made about the vision of where our great “ideas boom” was taking us – setting the scene to unite industry and researchers alike.

For manufacturing there was a glimmer of hope in the announcement of A$100 million to boost innovation, skills and employment in advanced manufacturing.

It addresses people, know-how, process and partnerships. If connected into a strategic plan there could be benefits for businesses as the manufacturing sector redeploys into new activity.

However, it does appear narrowly focused on the here and now for closed and closing automotive manufacturers.

In the absence of linkage with the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the pending 2030 Roadmap from Innovation and Science Australia, and comment on the research and development tax incentive review, the A$100 million may be an expensive band-aid.

Capital upgrades

The funding announcement refers to A$47.5 million for a new Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund to support South Australian and Victorian manufacturers for capital upgrades to “make their businesses more competitive through innovative processes and equipment”.

My experience of project work with manufacturing companies is that capital cost of equipment (capital expenditure, or “CapEx”) has never been a roadblock to growth and success.

When the business case stacks up, CapEx is easily justified. The business case is built upon having the right people and know-how in the business.

In isolation the drive to purchase new equipment presents no value to business, and may even lead to stranded assets. But coupled with people and know-how, opportunities may come.

It’s important to recognise that right now, existing manufacturers are looking at how to utilise and/or redeploy their existing assets. In particular the automotive parts manufacturers are seeking new opportunities that match with existing equipment.

An example is a company that I am working with, Precision Components in South Australia. They are redeploying their large metal presses previously used in car component manufacturing to create components for capturing solar energy at HeliostatSA. It’s a project that has contributed to export capability for HeliostatSA.

Redeployment is the focus for many businesses today, not new equipment.

Small scale research projects

The funding announcement refers to A$4 million to support small scale and pilot research projects in advanced manufacturing, administered through the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre.

This seems like a good move.

Boosting innovation requires broadening the base of businesses looking to grow, and collaboration with university research programs is one way to achieve this. Small grants build confidence in collaborative partnerships, and help to clarify what the innovation is and its future return on investment.

For example, the government’s Innovation Connections scheme has had success in seeding innovation and collaboration.

A recent recipient of an Innovation Connections grant, company Sentek Pty Ltd, is utilising this scheme to fund new product development, and to underpin justification for future and larger investment. I am collaborating with Sentek on this project.

Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Projects

The funding announcement refers to A$20 million under the Cooperative Research Centre – Projects initiative for larger scale advanced manufacturing research projects.

This funding should be warmly received.

The CRC program links researchers and industry, with the aim of delivering economic value to the industry partner and the sector more broadly. This scheme funds the real costs of research, develops skills in people, and incentivises transitioning knowledge out of the university.

The newly formed CRC Projects scheme is in its infancy, with industry firmly in the driving seat for administering the projects.

From the first two rounds of funding under the CRC Projects, a total of 28 projects have been funded. Each project has seen a co-investment from industry, universities, other research institutes, and the federal government.

Crunching the numbers for the funded projects shows, on average, the government invested A$2.04 million per project. This indicates that the new A$20 million of funding could support around an additional ten projects. This will stimulate activity and add value to our advanced manufacturing sector.

Innovation Labs

The funding announcement refers to A$10 million to establish Innovation Labs in South Australia and Victoria to serve industry.

It’s difficult to know what this means in reality.

Perhaps the purpose is to provide facilities for early stage innovation to be tested at minimal expense, and reduce the risk of the business making significant investment in infrastructure.

Perhaps it will allow researchers or companies to shore up concepts before seeking investment and raising capital. Maybe existing facilities will seek financial support to expand their remit across a diverse advanced manufacturing sector.

A topical example relates to additive manufacturing – generally known as 3D printing. Businesses producing 3D-printed products need a testing ground to conduct certification and accreditation of products prior to sale. The Innovation Labs could fill this void, and complete the link between laboratory research and commercial product.

Engineering excellence

The funding announcement refers to A$5 million investment in engineering student research at universities, technology institutions and in industry to maintain the flow of highly trained engineers to the automotive design and engineering sector.

At the heart of innovation are people.

Engineers represent one discipline that contributes to the pipeline of innovation. An investment to see the continual training of excellent engineers may address the loss of traditional career pathways.

Perhaps the funds will aid in restructuring of engineering education towards emerging opportunities in the health and medical, agriculture, renewable energy and other sectors.

As more details come to light in the coming weeks and months, the Turnbull government’s vision for Australia’s manufacturing future may become clearer.

But the sense from the manufacturers themselves is that they will just get on and do it anyway.

Drew Evans, Associate Professor of Energy & Advanced Manufacturing, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Muslim Mob Attacks Christians in Gujrat, Pakistan


Dozens beaten, shot at, left for dead since Sept. 8.

SARGODHA, Pakistan, September 27 (CDN) — A mob of Muslim extremists on Thursday (Sept. 23) shot at and beat dozens of Christians, including one cleared of “blasphemy” charges, in Punjab Province’s Gujrat district, Christian leaders said.

The attack on Tariq Gill, exonerated of charges of blaspheming the Quran on Sept. 3, 2009, and on his father Murad Gill, his mother and the other Christian residents was the latest of more than 10 such assaults on the Christian colony of Mohalla Kalupura, Gujrat city, since Sept. 8, the Rev. Suleman Nasri Khan and Bishop Shamas Pervaiz told Compass.

About 40 Islamists – some shooting Kalashnikovs and pistols at homes and individuals on the street, others brandishing axes and clubs – beat some of the Christians so badly that they left them for dead, Pastor Khan said. So far, 10 families have been targeted for the attacks.

On Thursday (Sept. 23) the assailants ripped the clothing off of Gill’s mother and dragged her nude through the streets, Pastor Khan said.

Among the Christians attacked on Thursday (Sept. 23) were Rashid Masih and his family, he said. The critically injured Masih and his family members, Gill and his parents, and the other injured Christians were initially rushed to Aziz Bhatti hospital in Gujrat, Pastor Khan said, and then transferred to Abdullah Hospital in nearby Lalla Musa to receive more advanced care.

“The injured Christians were under the observation of able doctors at Abdullah Hospital in Lalla Musa,” Pastor Khan told Compass by telephone.

Bishop Pervaiz, central vice chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith Peace Council, said the mob was led by two members of the National Assembly, Meer Anjum and Farasat Dar, at the behest of a powerful member of the Punjab Assembly named Sheikh Islam. The three Muslim politicians were not immediately available for comment, but the Gujrat superintendent of police investigations, identified only as Hafeez, told Christian leaders they were respectable legislators who were innocent.

Also asserting that the three Muslim politicians were behind the violence, Pastor Khan said the assailants have vowed to mount an attack on Mohalla Kalupura similar to the Islamist assault on Gojra in 2009. On Aug. 1, 2009, an Islamic mob acting on a false rumor of blaspheming the Quran and whipped into frenzy by local imams attacked the Christian colony in Gojra, burning at least seven Christians to death, injuring 19 others, looting more than 100 houses and setting fire to 50 of them. The dead included women and children.

Bishop Pervaiz said the attackers in Gujrat have threatened to kill him, Pastor Khan and Bishop Yashua John and continue to roam the streets of Mohalla Kalupura looking for Christian residents to kill.

The Lorry Adda police station house officer (SHO), inspector Riaz Qaddar, has stated publicly that “no stone would be left unturned” to apprehend the gunmen, but the Christian leaders said he has refused to act.

“The SHO flatly denied indicting the Muslim mob and especially the Muslim legislators,” said Pastor Khan, chairman of Power of God’s Healing Ministry International Pakistan and national coordinator of Jesus’ Victory Gospel Assembly of Pakistan.

Bishop Pervaiz said that besides the Christian accused of blasphemy, the attacks also may have been sparked by the election victory last year of an area Christian – who was slain a few days after taking office. Yaqoob Masih won the Tehsil Municipal Authority Gujrat election by a landslide, and a few days after he took office on Dec. 15, 2009, Muslim candidates running for the same office killed him, Bishop Pervaiz said.

He added that Lorry Adda police did not register a murder case at that time.  

In the blasphemy case, Tariq Gill was falsely charged on Aug. 15, 2009 under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for desecrating the Quran, but due to the intervention of Christian leaders, influential Muslim elders and police, he was exonerated of all allegations on Sept. 3, 2009, said Bishop Pervaiz, who is also chairman of the Council of Bishops and head of the National Churches in Pakistan.

“Muslim legislators Meer Anjum, Sheikh Islam and Farasat Dar had resentment against Murad Gill’s family over this blasphemy row as well,” said Bishop Pervaiz, “and now through these assaults, which are becoming more frequent and massive, emboldened Muslims have found a way to vent their fury.”

The Christian leaders said they approached District Police Officer Afzaal Kausar about the attacks, and he sent the application for charges to Hafeez, the superintendent of police investigation in Gujrat.

“But he did not bother to watch the video we shot of the attack and shrugged off the matter,” Pastor Khan said.

He said that Hafeez told them that Anjum, Dar and Islam were respectable legislators, “and without any investigation declared them innocent.”

This afternoon Pastor Khan led a protest at the Islamabad National Press Club. He said more than 250 Christian protestors reached Islamabad despite an attempt by Inspector Qaddar of Lorry Adda police station to arrest them before they left the area.

“But the invisible hand of Almighty God helped us, and we safely made it to Islamabad,” Pastor Khan said. “Although the government has clamped a ban on all sorts of processions and demonstrations, we successfully staged the sit-in before National Press Club Islamabad.”

Saying he regretted that the demonstration had drawn little attention, he added that the protestors would remain in front of the building tonight demanding justice. The pastor said tomorrow (Sept. 28) they would protest in front of the Islamabad Parliament House.

Report from Compass Direct News