Science Deadline - This Week in Sci-Tech
R&D tax credit discussion
Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash have released a discussion document on a proposed Research and Development tax incentive.
With New Zealand’s gross expenditure on R&D currently at 1.28 per cent, this puts the country behind the OECD average of 2.38 per cent. The Government has set a target of increasing R&D expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP by 2027 and has proposed a tax incentive to come into effect by 1 April 2019.
The discussion document is open for public consultation until 1 June. It proposes a 12.5 per cent tax credit on eligible expenditure for businesses doing R&D in New Zealand, available from 1 April 2019. Growth Grants would be phased out, with current recipients continuing to receive their grants until 31 March 2020 and the scheme closed to new applications from 31 March 2019.
Professor Rod McNaughton, deputy dean at the University of Auckland's Business School, said the discussion documentwould spark a "much needed conversation about how best to lift New Zealand's investment in R&D and improve its productivity, both of which are well below the OECD average".
While he expected the proposed tax credit would be favourably received by industry, "the devil is in the details". "There is likely to be considerable debate over the next few weeks about whether the government has the design of the programme right."
AUT's Pro Vice Chancellor - Research and Innovation Professor John Raine said the gross investment in R&D had stayed about the same as it was in 2011 when he chaired the Powering Innovation Review. At that stage, the review recommended investment be lifted to the OECD average within ten years, but "New Zealand has failed to make progress on this".
"The introduction of a 12.5% tax credit system, with a generous $120 million cap per annum, should stimulate more business R&D investment and this will be welcomed. Some care is needed in the way in which R&D is measured and accounted for to be able to see true gains in investment."
Professor Shaun Hendy, director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, said R&D spend had remained "stubbornly low" for decades, which had "inhibited our ability to grow our economy sustainably, and has led to economic performance that has been anaemic relative to other advanced countries".
"I think R&D tax credits have some advantages over direct grants for New Zealand, but I don’t think there is a single silver bullet solution to lifting our R&D spend. Hence I would like to see this policy become part of an integrated strategy that signals a long-term commitment to valuing innovation in New Zealand."
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the discussion document.
"By the time a little blue penguin is in the shallow water in the daytime, and you're able to pick it up – that means it's critically unwell, so this is not an animal that needs selfies taken, this is an animal that needs urgent veterinary care."
Auckland Zoo veterinarian James
on public interactions with blue penguins.
Report flags soil health
The extent to which we have changed our natural landscapes is highlighted in the latest instalment of the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ’s environmental reporting.
Some of the key findings include the effects of erosion and intensive agriculture, with 192 million tonnes of soil lost each year from erosion and soil quality testing flagging phosphorus levels and macroporosity (which indicates soil compaction) as cause for concern.
Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research scientist Dr Pierre Roudier welcomed the report, particularly as it highlighted soil resources. "Cruicially, the report outlines some significant data gaps around the monitoring of land cover, land use and soil health."
"It also singles out the lack of general spatio-temporal datasets on soil. These are all very valid conclusions in my view, and I hope these shortcomings around long-term monitoring of our land resources will be subsequently addressed."
Department of Conservation chief science advisor Dr Ken Hughey said it was the gaps the report highlighted that interested him. "At DOC we have a robust data collection system, which has contributed to this report. Although we can provide data on biodiversity, ecosystems and land cover on public conservation land, the bigger picture for New Zealand is not quite so complete."
"There is much biodiversity that needs to be protected outside public conservation land and that’s where we need more information."
Professor Rich McDowell - AgResearch principal scientist and chief scientist for Our Land and Water national science challenge - said it was important to note the report did not provide insight into the trends in relation to phosphorus in the soil and macroporosity.
"Phosphorus in the soil is one measure, but there are other variables at play such as compaction of the soil, that will dictate whether there is phosphorus run-off into waterways to do damage.
"What we do know is that the data for water quality (in regard to phosphorus) and sediment concentrations indicate that far more sites are showing improvements now (2004-2013) than before (1994-2003)," he said.
"These improvements may be due to greater awareness, farmers being more proactive or policy changes."
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research fellow David Fleming said the government should be applauded for the strong self-criticism implied in the report's findings.
"In order to better confront these challenges, the country needs to build more and better data sources on land use activity, resources use and condition. Without consistent national integrated data sources, it will be very hard to track future environmental conditions and the effects of policies or programs intended to reduce human impact."
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.
Policy news & developments
Mycoplasma test coming: MPI is developing a diagnostic tool which will allow farmers to test cattle for the disease Mycoplasma bovis.
Climate committee: The Minister for Climate Change has announced the membership of the Interim Climate Change Committee, which will focus on creating a net zero emissions economy by 2050.
Syphilis rates jump: A doubling in the number of syphilis cases from 2015 to 2017, reported by ESR, has spurred reminders around safe sex practice.
Funding for erosion control: MPI is providing $830,000 to the Gisborne District Council for 3-D aerial mapping of its region to enable better-informed erosion control and business decisions.
Timber treatment reconsidered: The EPA
has approved an application to consider a reassessment of
the controversial timber and log fumigant methyl
Bowel screening pilot problems: The Ministry of Health has discovered that many more people than first thought didn’t receive invitations for free bowel screening during the bowel screening pilot programme.
Biofouling guides: MPI has released guidance on how international vessels can comply with strict new biofouling rules and prevent dirty ships entering NZ.
This week on the NZ Conversation.
New Zealand puts an end to new permits for exploration of deep-sea oil and gas reserves
James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington
Six ways to improve water quality in New Zealand’s lakes and rivers
Troy Baisden, University of Waikato