The Federal Government has commissioned a total of $70 million to IT research and development over the past year according to an annual report tabled this week.
Over the 1999-2000 financial year, the Industry Research and Development (IR&D) Board approved $177 million for 219 projects nationally under its grants and loans program.
Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Nick Minchin said that, with company contributions, this brought the grant total of research and development support to more than $400 million.
The Government grants and loans program, run by AusIndustry, targets small companies with an annual turnover of approximately $5 million.
"The grants cover a wide range of the IT sector, through software, telecommunications, broadcasting, databases and operating systems," says an AusIndustry spokesperson. "We deliberately don't target the so called 'sexy' areas of the IT industry.
Applications are project based and assessed on the basis of five core criteria including commercial potential, national benefits, management of the company and need for funding. The company must also foot the bill for 50 per cent of the project.
Minchin believes that getting local innovative projects onto the world stage is critical to proving Australia's competitive ability on a global level. "That is why the Government, through its programs, is encouraging businesses and research institutions to undertake R&D," he said.
The IR&D Board estimates that the level of research and development supported in Australia by both Government and business is approaching the $4.5 billion mark. "While that support is very encouraging, the Government considers even more businesses could embrace R&D," said Minchin. "This is borne out by the Innovation Summit's report, 'Innovation - Unlocking the Future', which found commercialising R&D was essential to improve the nation economy."
The Aus Industry program has secured funding till 2003, suggesting the Government's commitment to IT R&D will last for some time yet.