'Ideas boom' will revive economy: Turnbull

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull outlining his innovation agenda as the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Mr Christopher Pyne, looked on in Canberra yesterday.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull outlining his innovation agenda as the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Mr Christopher Pyne, looked on in Canberra yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Innovation package to draw entrepreneurs, investors aims to encourage start-up growth

Australia will introduce a new visa for entrepreneurs and migration incentives for foreign post-graduates as part of a plan for a technology-fuelled "ideas boom" to help the nation move beyond its dependence on mining. 

Announcing the A$1.1 billion (S$1.12 billion) plan yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said innovation and risk-taking could boost prosperity and lead to a boom that would "continue forever".

The wide-ranging plan includes tax incentives for angel investors who back start-ups, easing bankruptcy laws to encourage risk-taking, and a new "entrepreneur visa" to start in November next year for migrants who have funding to start new businesses. The visas will be available to entrepreneurs with "innovative, high-growth potential ideas" who have backing from third-party investors. 

"Our innovation agenda is going to help create the modern, dynamic 21st century economy Australia needs," Mr Turnbull said at the launch of the plan in Canberra.

"Unlike a mining boom, it is a boom that can continue forever, it is limited only by our imagination, and I know that Australians believe in themselves, I know that we are a creative and imaginative nation."

  • INNOVATION AGENDA

  • • New entrepreneur visa for foreigners with funded ideas for new businesses

    • Foreign graduates in sciences and technology to receive bonus points when applying for Australian visas

    • A$106 million in incentives for "angel" investors who back start-ups

    • A$11 million to help Australian entrepreneurs in global innovation hot spots such as Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv 

    • A$84 million to promote teaching of science, technology, engineering and computing to young students and girls

In an attempt to retain "highly talented people", the Federal Government said it will make it easier for foreign students with doctorate-level and masters research qualifications in science, technology, maths and information and communications technology to gain permanent residency.

"The more high-quality, effective, productive enterprising entrepreneurs we can attract, the better - because they drive jobs," he said.

The ambitious proposals come as Australia struggles to boost growth and find new revenue sources following a decade-long mining boom that has begun to fade as commodity prices retreat and demand from key buyer China eases.

Australia has often been accused of failing to convert its research and inventions into commercially successful innovations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks Australia as one of the worst developed nations when it comes to commercialising ideas.

For Mr Turnbull, a former Internet entrepreneur and strong advocate of new technology, the plan marks the first time he has put his own stamp on policy since he ousted former leader Tony Abbott in September.

Significantly, he will relax insolvency laws for failed start-ups, reducing the default bankruptcy period from three years to one year. Early stage - or "angel" - investors who take on high risk by investing in start-up businesses will receive a 20 per cent non-refundable tax offset.

Extra funding will also be spent on education and research, including encouraging girls to study science, maths and engineering and promoting teaching of computer coding in schools.

Mr Turnbull said he was concerned there were not enough Australians - particularly women - studying maths and sciences. "The most valuable capital is human capital," he told ABC Television last night. "It is important to retain our best brains… and also be attractive to people from other parts of the world, whether they are students or not."

The proposals were warmly welcomed by analysts, academics and the business community. "With this agenda, the Turnbull government has recognised that innovation is key to Australia's future and that the ideas and knowledge produced by research are key to innovation," said Professor Les Field of the Australian Academy of Science.

StartupAUS, an advocacy group for start-up businesses, welcomed the proposals, saying Australia had among the lowest numbers of start-up companies.

"We need to have more support at that very early stage, where there's a market issue around people putting their capital into those very small early-stage businesses," the organisation's head, Mr Peter Bradd, told ABC Radio.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline ''Ideas boom' will revive economy: Turnbull'. Print Edition | Subscribe