The hot economic issue today is “Happy birthday, Industrial Relations”. It is the first anniversary of the government’s new IR legislation.

In the past year, 265,000 new jobs have been created. This is a great outcome for an economy that in some respects has been struggling, and the strong jobs performance can only be attributed to the IR changes. Even Greg Combet on ABC radio this morning sounded less than totally glib when this point was raised in his birthday interview.

However, strong employment growth combined with slower GDP growth means slower productivity growth. While creation of low skill, low productivity jobs is good news for the low-skill workers who were previously kept out of the jobs market by the monopolistic practices of the old approach to IR, any sensible approach to Australia’s economic strategy must focus on high-skill, high productivity, high-wage jobs.

Right on cue, the Productivity Commission has galloped to the rescue. The cavalry has issued a report today entitled “Public support for science and innovation”. Key points from the study are:

There are widespread and important economic, social and environmental benefits generated by Australia’s $6 billion public funding support of science and innovation. On the basis of multiple strands of evidence, the benefits of public spending are likely to exceed the costs.

But, given a host of measurement and methodological issues, it is not possible to provide anything other than broad estimates of the overall return to government contributions. Major improvements are needed in some key institutional and program areas.

This report should and probably will generate lots of debate. Reforms that create low-productivity, low wage jobs are a great way to help the battlers. A well structured program of public funding of research and innovation – turning research onto business – is a great way to raise national productivity.

As Henry’s editor and Chair of the Australian Institute for Commercialisation (AIC) said today: “A carefully optimised program of public funding of research and innovation is one of the mainsprings of productivity growth. Carefully focussed R&D spending helps create high productivity, high wage jobs – creating jobs and wealth for the scientists and technologists involved, supporting existing industries (that need technical breakthroughs to maintain and enhance competitiveness) and creating new jobs in new industries and sustainable prosperity for the nation as a whole”.

Regular readers will know that Henry has been campaigning for a more open, more transparent and generally tougher anti-drugs approach for the AFL. Events have brought this issue to boiling point, as witnessed by the weekend press and Monday’s talkback radio.

Today, Henry’s sport’s correspondent, Luke Griffiths, brings the debate up-to-date. Perhaps after the current discussion has had its day, the Chief will take a tougher line – we certainly hope so. There is a clear need to clean up the game and to make sure it is seen to be cleaned up.

Read more at Henry Thornton.