Government of Victoria:The Hon Gordon Rich-Phillips, Technology Minister, .Developing the Australian BioTech sector

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Video title: Government of Victoria:The Hon Gordon Rich-Phillips, Technology Minister, .Developing the Australian BioTech sector
Released on: February 01, 2013. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at AusBio 2012 in Melbourne, Australia, Fintan Walton talks to The Hon Gordon Rich-Phillips, Technology Minister at Victoria Government, Australia
Emergence of biotech sector in Victoria
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at AusBiotech in Melbourne, in 2012. On this show I have Gordon Rich-Phillips, who is the Minister for Technology in the Victorian Government, here in Melbourne, welcome.
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Fintan Walton:
Gordon, you are obviously a man with a lot of responsibility, that responsibility in the portfolio of the Minister of Technology or for Technology here in Victoria, Victoria obviously has a very strong reputation, historical reputation for innovation, it's got some of the top universities in Australia based here, what is it that has helped biotech emerge in Victoria?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
You are quite right, Victoria has a very strong reputation in biotechnology, and Victoria is and Melbourne is the leading place for biotechnology in Australia, and that's not by accident, that's is a consequence of a lot of investment by government over many years in supporting the development of the sector, because we see a lot of potential for biotechnology we need to, Victorian economy is obviously undergoing a lot of change as many western economies are and it's areas like life sciences, where high evaluating is required, where intellectual property is required, that we see a lot of potential and that's why there has been such a strong focus on developing our technology sectors generally ICT, biotechnology, and small tech and biotech in particular.
Role of government in development of biotech sector
Fintan Walton:
Right, now but obviously you need great scientists and you need the right economy to create biotech, but the role of government, you say even your government plays a role in that but what are the key areas that from your perspective that government can play a role, because obviously there are things like those taxes like people like to talk about taxes, but also how you can actually create the environment for a enterprise but equally making sure that you have the skill sets in the territory to allow biotech to emerge?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
That's absolutely right, on taxation Australia generally has a very solid taxation base in terms of supporting research and development, a very competitive taxation base in terms supporting research and development, but Victoria as a state jurisdiction doesn't get heavily involved in terms of tax concessions, but areas where we can influence outcomes include in supporting development around our research institutions, and of course the Parkville Precinct around the University of Melbourne is world renowned for it's research and development capability. It's a precinct that has around 10,000 researchers, further out from Melbourne we have the Monash University Precinct, at Clayton, which has around 3000 researchers, and facilities such as a the Australian Synchrotron, which is one of the best research facilities for biotechnology anywhere in the world, it's a world renowned facility and putting in place and supporting the development of precincts and R&D capability like that, and facilities such as Synchrotron are important roles for government, likewise in the area of skills development, as you said one of the key challenges for a growing biotech sector is to have a pipeline of skilled people and one of the areas that government focuses on is in developing that pipeline and encouraging young people to enter professions, to enter tertiary education, which will ultimately lead them to technology careers and that means getting to them at primary and secondary school level, getting them interested in science, and technology and maths subjects and ultimately pursuing tertiary education as relevant to, relevant to technology careers. The other area is in supporting people with good technical skills to develop relevant business skills, because one of the big challenges for the biotechnology sector is to convert research into a commercial product, and that's one of the big challenges and ensuring that the people who are undertaking the clinical research, the development work, actually have the skill sets to take it to the next level and make it a commercial venture.
Financial assistance by Victorian Government
Fintan Walton:
Right, and I suppose some people in the biotech sector would say that government doesn't do enough, I mean you've described that you have done quite a reasonable amount, but how would argue that criticism?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Well, government, the best thing government can do, whether it's for biotechnology, other technology or other industry sectors, is to create a competitive business environment and that's the fundamental role of government and that's what this government is set out to do in Victoria in terms of reducing red tape, in terms of creating a competitive tax environment around state taxation and set the basic, the fundamentals correctly for all investment. In terms of then specific sector investment there is a role for government to play and last year the Victoria Government released what we called Victoria's Technology Plan for the future, which is a $150 million package which supports the development of the ICT, the biotechnology, and the small technology sectors, because as I said we see those as of strategic importance to the Victorian economy, and the way in which that plan works it has two areas it's focused one, the first is a traditional area of developing industry investment, export development, job creation, but the second area and the area that's the most exciting area is encouraging the use of technology developed in Victoria to drive better outcomes and particularly in productivity based outcomes in the broader economy. We actually have a great story to tell in terms of our capability in technology and biotech and what we want to see is the broader non-technology economy actually harness that potential, and we put in place a number of programs to assist with that, the Technology Voucher Program which I announced early this year is very much geared towards encouraging the non-technology sector to partner with technology companies through the use of government grants to actually build technology and biotechnology into their products and services.
Challenges of biotechnology sector in Australia
Fintan Walton:
Right, but I suppose the other thing that people observe, probably from both within Australia and probably outside Australia, is that the resources in mining sector has really over dominated, one could argue, in Australia, and as a result innovative areas like biotechnology have been, have suffered as a result of that, probably because it's more difficult for these companies to float on ASX and so forth, so what's your reaction to that type of criticism?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Well Victoria is not a mining dominated economy, now Victoria has very little mining compared to the rest of Australia and therefore we are heavily relied upon our services sector and that is why so much effort is gone into building up our technology sector, and Victoria is recognized has having the strongest biotechnology sector in Australia, in terms of listed biotechnology companies, there market cap is around $27 billion, so it's a very significant value of listed biotech companies based here in Victoria and we've got around a 130 companies working in the biotechnology area in the state, and we have around a third of all listed technology companies based here in Victoria. So Victoria with a 25% of Australia's population is well and truly punching above its weight in terms of the development of the sector here, but the reality is a lot of capital has gone into the mining sector in Australia over the last decade. If you look back to 2000, the pre decade, for every dollar that was invested in mining in 2001 a further five dollars were invested in the non-mining economy. Now jump forward to 2012 it's now a dollar for dollar, so 50% of all capital investment in Australia is now flying into the mining sector, which creates challenges and that's why we need to highlight the strength of our biotechnology sector, that's why the Victoria Government supports events like AusBiotech 2012, that's why we supported the Australian mission to BIO in the US back in June.
Victorian Government and his role as Technology Minister
Fintan Walton:
Sure, I suppose the other element to this is that as innovation grows here in Victoria and as you say it's got a, you've got a strong track record in that, ultimately often that a technology ends up been abroad, it's licensed in by major pharmaceutical companies, basically the technology is lost and so you end up with a Victoria with this which just has the innovation happening but not the manufacturing and so forth being developed out of that innovation, what's, what do you think the Victoria Government can do to ensure that there is more value added back into the Victorian state?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Well that's certainly the big challenge in terms of taking that next step and getting access to the capital to take that next step, and we have seen great successes in doing that, and CSL is of course one of the largest biotech companies in the world, they are manufacturing here in Australia, here in Victoria and it's been a great success story. One of our challenges is to raise the profile of the Victorian biotechnology sector internationally in those markets where venture capital is available, for further product development, and ultimately manufacturing, but we recognize that in, our strength lies in the development of intellectual property, that's where a lot of work has gone into supporting our research and development, supporting the capacity for research and development, and that's clearly a strength of the Victorian economy.
Fintan Walton:
And as a Minister taking on the responsibility for technology here in Victoria, what would you like to see down as your epitaph for your role in as the Minister for Technology, what in other words what would you like to see achieved let's say over your term?
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Well I would like to think that we are not yet dead, but in terms of, in terms of the achievements in this portfolio.
Fintan Walton:
Don't worry people already writing your epitaph I am sure, at least the opposition are, go ahead.
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
We are very much looking forward to that integration of technology into the broader economy. One of the big challenges we face in Victoria, and in Australia more generally, is driving productivity growth in the economy, and technology is a very strong way of doing that and that's why so much of the focus of the government technology plan, released last year, is on driving the uptake of technology whether it's ICT, biotech, or small tech into the broader economy and if that can be achieved that obviously boosts our biotechnology companies but it also has a very significant boost to our broader economic outcomes and that would be a great achievement.
Fintan Walton:
Gordon Rich-Phillips, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Gordon Rich-Phillips:
Thank you very much.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Gordon Rich-Phillips
Technology Minister
At the time of this PTV interview Gordon Rich-Phillips serves as the Minister for Technology and Minister responsible for the Aviation Industry in the Government of Victoria. He is also the Assistant Treasurer of Victoria. For the five years prior to this Gordonwas employed by IBIS Business Information working in a range of economic research and analysis roles as well as working on a number of significant private sector consulting projects. A pilot since the age of 16, Gordonholds a Commercial Pilot License and Multi Engine Command Instrument Rating and has flown a variety of single and twin engine aircraft throughout much of south east Australia. Elected at the age of 25, Gordonis the youngest person ever elected to the Victorian Legislative Council and is currently the youngest Cabinet Minister in Victoria. Mr Rich-Phillipsis a Member for South Eastern Metropolitan Melbourne.
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialization.
Victoria Government
The Government of Victoria, under the Constitution of Australia, ceded certain legislative and judicial powers to the Commonwealth, but retained complete independence in all other areas. The Victorian Constitution says: "the Legislature of Victoria has full power and authority." In practice, however, the independence of the Australian states has been greatly eroded by the increasing financial domination of the Commonwealth. Victoria is governed according to the principles of the Westminster system, a form of parliamentary government based on the model of the United Kingdom. Legislative power rests with the Parliament of Victoria, which consists of the Crown, represented by the Governor of Victoria, and the two Houses, the Victorian Legislative Council (the upper house) and the Victorian Legislative Assembly (the lower house). Executive power rests formally with the Executive Council, which consists of the Governor and senior ministers. In practice executive power is exercised by the Premier of Victoria and the Cabinet, who are appointed by the Governor, but who hold office by virtue of their ability to command the support of a majority of members of the Legislative Assembly. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Victoria and a system of subordinate courts, but the High Court of Australia and other federal courts have overriding jurisdiction on matters which fall under the ambit of the Australian Constitution.