Megan Woods has been accused of dragging the chain on a long-delayed master plan to transform New Zealand's science and innovation sector.

But the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation (RSI) says the Covid-19 crisis has put the strategy on hold - and argues rushing it through now "would not be right".

The Government began developing its RSI strategy back in 2018 and originally planned to launch it in June last year, but the deadline was pushed back to carry out more consultation.

Woods had hoped to put out the final strategy early this year, but opted to delay the release again as the Government dealt with Covid-19.


The strategy carried a vision of 2027 in which New Zealand would be a "global innovation hub" and "a world-class generator of new ideas", while spending 2 per cent of GDP on R&D, compared with about 1.4 per cent today.

The strategy would serve as a guide for where government investment should be targeted, as well as how to improve the quality and impact of science.

It also sought to build stronger links between institutes, innovators and markets here and overseas, while tackling long-standing issues like better engaging with Māori, and fostering more diversity in the space.

National's RSI spokeswoman Dr Parmjeet Parmar questioned why, after a nearly a whole term of government, the strategy was still "nowhere to be seen".

"The scientific community and the innovative business sector deserves better."

Parmar pointed to Treasury documents showing the strategy was supposed to have been released more than a year ago - and that investment in innovation had been delayed as a result.

"This lack of action is only creating more uncertainty within businesses, that are already struggling to rebound from Covid-19," Parmar said.

"Research, science and innovation appears to be low on this Government's list of priorities or the minister is struggling to come up with her strategy."


Parmar argued Covid-19 shouldn't be a reason not to deliver the plan.

Woods told the Herald that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had been working closely with the sector on the strategy, and it had become clear in late 2018 and early 2019 that more "in-depth" consultation was needed.

That finished last year and attracted more than 100 submissions. She said those gave feedback were "far happier" with that approach than a rushed one.

"We had hoped to launch the Strategy in early 2020, but Covid-19 has put that on hold," she said.

"It would not be right for the sector, or New Zealand, if we were to rush out a strategy that may not be fit for the new challenges and opportunities we now face as a country.

"We are taking the time to understand how we may need to adapt the RSI Strategy so that it is truly fit-for-purpose."


In June, the Government again decided to delay the launch - this time until after the election.

Science, Research and Innovation Minister Megan Woods says Covid-19 has put on hold the Government's strategy for the sector. Photo / Mark Tantrum
Science, Research and Innovation Minister Megan Woods says Covid-19 has put on hold the Government's strategy for the sector. Photo / Mark Tantrum

Science commentator Professor Shaun Hendy said there was frustration in the sector over not having the strategy in place.

"But I think if they rushed to bring something out during lockdown, it would be almost instantly obsolete - we need to take a look at the science system post-Covid."

Hendy saw a range of critical issues in the sector that urgently needed addressing: among them, job security for early career researchers, and systemic problems with Crown research institutes (CRIs) just highlighted in a new review.

"The Covid-19 reset gives us a chance to address some of those, as well as responding to the changed landscape."

New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) president Professor Troy Baisden said it was "unfortunate but unsurprising" that a final strategy hadn't yet emerged to guide post-Covid budgets and changes.


"Serious thinking is under way, because the challenges of the pandemic have made it clearly that parts of the research put in place over the last decade aren't working well, and interfere with the parts that do work," Baisden said.

"The NZAS has raised warnings as many of the problematic structures were put in place, because they went against good recommendations and strategy and defied international best practice."

Baisden said the CRI review had flagged many of those problems - the institutes had become "too corporate" and were run mainly to stabilise "inherently unstable finances" - while the draft version of the strategy pointed to another.

"Compared to international norms, we don't support stable institutions and the people in them, aiming funding only to produce activity rather than building foundations or careers.

"We need more success like we saw from the management of Covid-19, where a small pool of excellent researchers and science communicators were primed and ready to go, to serve New Zealand."