I’m very happy to be speaking in support of this motion today in two facets. One is the commercialisation of Australian research is an important personal issue for me and is one of the reasons that I entered into this field, and the second, more importantly, is what this speaks to for our community in terms of the careers, livelihoods and fulfilment of future generations of Toowoomba region’s youth. The previous government had a proud legacy of supporting education, research and development in this country. Over the last nine years we increased the funding to universities by 34 per cent to $19.5 billion and increased the number of government supported university places by 11 per cent to 640,000. We also invested heavily in research and development. In my electorate of Groom we were a major beneficiary of this estimated $4.3 billion of investment in the last financial year, through the education portfolio. Both the University of Southern Queensland and the University of Queensland received great support to embark on new research projects in the Toowoomba region. The biggest of these investments were two Trailblazer grants totalling $100 million across two universities and creating an estimated 2,400 jobs.
At UniSQ, the $50 million Trailblazer grant will be used for the establishment of the Innovation Launch, Automation, Novel Material, Communications and Hypersonics hub—which can be shortened to iLAuNCH, for the marketing people in the building. This will help the Toowoomba region’s burgeoning space industry blast off, unlocking a whole new galaxy of jobs for our young people. UniSQ’s research will be happening alongside 23 partners, including 17 small and medium enterprises, ensuring that the conversion of this work to commercial application remains front of mind. Along with that, we’ve seen Boeing’s Loyal Wingman project set up shop at the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, a stone’s throw from the university campus. Now Virgin Orbit have announced plans to launch its first Southern Hemisphere test flight from Toowoomba in 2024. The opportunities for collaboration are truly endless. In our region, when we see research into the space industry, we see how that can transmit across into defence—obviously at Oakey we have a proud tradition, as well as at Cabarlah, with our defence industry there—but there’s an opportunity for us to tie these two together, as we see the coming innovations and the coming research that we’ll need to drive our defence industry forward.
I pause to note just how much Toowoomba has changed. We have become, in a very short space of time, on the back of these significant government investments, a centre for space engineering and space research in Australia. This was a town that was once known for its dairy industry, for mining out at Oakey and for heavy agriculture. Now we’re changing. We’re becoming something more than we were, as we grow into a city that has more than just the things you need but has the things you want. Part of that is the opportunity for young people to have a completely different career path. They can learn, study and have a career in the Toowoomba region in this exciting new field. That’s something that’s fantastic in a regional centre like ours. It speaks to the success of the drive towards regionalisation that the previous government undertook.
The second $50 million Trailblazer grant was secured by UQ to accelerate our world-leading agritech industry and to capitalise on new opportunities for Australian products in food and beverage supply chains. One of the 14 industry partners involved in this project is the Toowoomba region’s own Agtech and Logistics Hub. This hub, located at the innovative AATLIS precinct in Charlton, is all about providing a space for this blending of research and commercialisation to occur. When I was last there, it was great to see the traditional agriculture businesses, machinery manufacturers, and research and tech companies all sharing their ideas together. It was also great, during their time in government, to have the members for Hume and McPherson come and see firsthand how these investments are bringing together different technologies. I think that’s one of the great learnings that we have: how, with this investment, we can help bridge the gap between research and industry, which is often referred to as the ‘technology valley of death’ and which is something that, in my time working for a CRC, we saw as very, very important. This is the one space in technology that government has a real role in: pulling collaboration together.
Technology without an application has no value. That’s an old saying and I think it’s so, so true. The investments that the previous government made were bringing value to technology that had been developed here in Australia and providing that commercialisation opportunity. I’m very, very glad to report that, for example, the Trailblazer funding for UniSQ announced in April has already seen support from industry come flooding into our region. This is a fantastic funding stream, and it must be continued.