CSIRO’s Innovation Fund – managed by Main Sequence Ventures – has won an extra $150 million funding from the Federal Government.
In his first major speech of the year to the National Press Club, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the windfall for CSIRO as part of new measures to accelerate research and commericialisation, focused on the Government’s national manufacturing priorities.
However, the announcement and attempt to reset the political narrative at the start of an election year ended up being overshadowed by a series of damaging leaks, highly critical of the character of the Prime Minister.
Aimed at encouraging greater engagement between university researchers and industry, “Australia’s Economic Accelerator (AEA) is a stage-gated, competitive program designed to attract projects at proof of concept or proof of scale and their level of commercial readiness for both, but with high potential,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
“It will allow Australian innovators to access funding opportunities for each stage of their project provided they can continue to prove project viability and importantly, commercial potential.
“Industry involvement and engagement is required and absolutely necessary at every stage, with the CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures engaged to catalyse venture capital investment in research and development in the final stage,” the Prime Minister said.
CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall welcomed the announcement.
“An additional $150 million of investment capital will enable Main Sequence Ventures to invest in ‘deep tech’ opportunities arising from the AEA program… this is a new $1.6 billion competitive program for funding translation and commercialisation of university research in the National Manufacturing priority areas.
“It is designed to help take specific technologies across the ‘valley of death’ and to readiness for commercial investment,” Dr Marshall said.
The CSIRO Innovation Fund was launched in 2016 as part of the then-Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. Funded from an initial $70 million Government contribution and another $30 million from CSIRO’s WiFi royalties, Main Sequence Ventures was formed to manage the fund with the aim of attracting another $100 million in private investment.
“Over the past four years, Main Sequence Ventures has invested in 39 companies which has led to more than 60 company collaborative projects with universities and 19 projects with CSIRO,” Dr Marshall said.
Media reports from last April stated that Main Sequence had raised $250 million to form a second fund to invest in emerging Australian deep tech and science-based start-ups, with total funds under management rapidly approaching half a billion dollars.
While the total value of the manufacturing commercialisation package weighed in at $2.2 billion, the Prime Minister’s speech largely focused on the ongoing response to the pandemic and a broader defence of the Government’s record amid falling poll numbers.
Acknowledging the frustration of an Australian summer marred by the Omicron outbreak, Prime Minister Morrison said “it’s fair enough that this disappointment” would lead to criticism of the Coalition Government.
“I haven’t got everything right,” the Prime Minister admitted.
However, while facing questions from the Press Gallery following the speech, the Prime Minister was immediately confronted by a leaked text message exchange – allegedly between former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and an unnamed Federal Minister – where the PM was variously described as a “horrible, horrible person”, “obsessed with petty political point-scoring,” a “fraud” and “complete pyscho.”
Worse was to come, later in the week when another set of leaked texts – this time from Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce – described Mr Morrison as a “liar and a hypocrite.”
The messages were confirmed genuine and sent by Mr Joyce in March 2021, while on the backbench and prior to reclaiming leadership of the Nationals later that July.
“(Morrison) is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time,” Joyce said in the message.
“I have never trusted him, and I dislike how earnestly (he) rearranges the truth to a lie.”