The Opinion article "Towards a 'knowledge nation'" (Nature 411, 619; 2001) does not fully convey the priority that the Australian Commonwealth government — the national government of Australia — places on biotechnology.

For example, the Commonwealth government gave A$296 million (US$150 million) in the year 1999–2000 to biotechnology through funding schemes such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the R&D Start programme. This expenditure represents more than 9% of the government's total R&D funding and is separate from the initiatives discussed in your editorial.

In limiting your article to individual initiatives, you did not discuss the coordinated nature of the Commonwealth response to biotechnology. This is best exemplified by the creation of Biotechnology Australia, a body that implements and evaluates national biotechnology strategy, and manages the government's non-regulatory biotechnology activities.

The national biotechnology strategy was developed in consultation with the biotechnology sector and the government's biotechnology consultative committee. It identifies priorities, including the Biotechnology Innovation Fund, set up with A$40 million to address the market failure arising from the current shortage of venture capital available at the critical proof-of-concept phase.

The government also has programmes such as the Innovation Investment Fund to encourage the flow of venture capital. The national biotechnology strategy also identifies the need for collaboration with state governments to facilitate the development and coordination nationally of existing clusters and networks. A national biotechnology centre of excellence is planned, with initial funding of A$46 million.

Proponents of biotechnology must not forget that the public will not accept this new technology without appropriate safety measures and without information. The Australian Commonwealth office of the gene technology regulator started operations on 21 June, introducing stringent procedures to protect both human health and the environment, and serving the biotechnology sector by publishing clear guidelines and transparent procedures.

Commonwealth initiatives, such as labelling genetically modified food products and providing factual information for the public, continue to be a major activity (for example, see