Science shake-up could benefit NZ's bottom line

By Eloise Gibson

Crown scientists could create more money spinners like the $470 million gold kiwifruit industry under a plan to reduce in-fighting for money.

A Government taskforce has recommended reorganising the roles of the eight Crown science companies to make it clear that their job is to carry out research for the long-term benefit of New Zealand - not to make money for the state.

Scientists say the shake-up would give them more freedom to work on inventions that could turn into long-term money spinners, even if businesses were initially dubious about the benefits.

Examples include Plant and Food's gold kiwifruit, which is expected to earn $1.2 billion a year by 2016, and Niwa's fish farming project, which is predicted to kick-start a $500 million industry by 2025.

Each of those grew from $20 million to $30 million research investments.

Scientists say the existing system requires them to constantly scrap for funding, making it difficult to pursue projects that do not have an immediate pay-back.

Science Minister Wayne Mapp was quick to squash suggestions companies might be let off making yearly profits.

"Good performing crown research institutes tend to meet that objective ... so you don't want to go away from that. But the truth is we don't own CRIs to make money," said Dr Mapp.

New Zealand Association of Scientists spokesman James Renwick said reducing competition would give the Government more bang for its buck because less money would go on administering funding applications.

The Government gives the science companies about $318 million a year, $61 million directly and the rest through contestable contracts.

Dr Renwick and the heads of Science New Zealand and the Royal Society welcomed the report.

Meanwhile, Dr Mapp and Finance Minister Bill English have been discussing how to react to the taskforce report. A decision is expected soon.

MONEY SPINNERS

AgResearch: Found a wasp that ate pests, saving $300 million a year.

ESR: Proved NZ beef was not the source of E.coli in US, helping protect $5 billion of exports.

GNS: Helped to discover the Tui oil fields.

Plant and Food: Invented gold kiwifruit, worth $470 million in exports last year.

Scion: Developed high-visibility clothing.

Niwa: Fish-farming research.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: NZPA

- NZ Herald

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