Matthew L James
Before this year’s announcement, scientists feared severe cutbacks to research spending, but the reality was an overall growth trend. There were, however, some limitations, particularly in specific programs in the rural and environmental science sectors.
Estimated total Federal Government expenditure on science research and innovation areas amounted to $9 384 million in 2011-12, which was an increase of about three per cent above revised outcomes for the previous year.  (The Australian Government’s 2011–12 Science, Research and Innovation Budget Tables provide further breakdown by agencies across portfolios.) While the 2011-12 budget for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) dipped slightly from 2010-11, the Government has committed $3 billion to it through a new Quadrennial Funding Agreement to operate from 2011 to 2015. Funding for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research grants was maintained with small increases projected in forward years. Funding, through the NHMRC’s Medical Research Endowment Account, increased from $715.5 million in 2010-11 to $746.1 million in 2011-12, or an increase of 4.3 per cent.
Additional funding was announced for a number of science programs, such as: $21 million over three years for ‘Science for Australia’s Future—Inspiring Australia’ a national strategy for the public engagement in science (redirected from savings); and, $40.2 million of new money over four years, to support the Joint Australia-New Zealand bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope to be located in the Western Australian outback. There were also grants for establishment of a South-East South Australian Innovation and Investment Fund of $10 million (over two years); for the continuation of the Tasmanian Information and Communication Technologies Centre ($20 million over five years to be matched by the other parties involved); and a new Australia-China Science and Research Fund of $9 million, with each program expenditure allocation spread over some years.
However, on the debit side, funding for the Cooperative Research Centres programs dropped by $33.4 million over four years, reportedly in the areas of cotton and beef research, forestry and national plant bio-security, and feral pest controls, the savings being redirected to other programs. The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research’s Collaborative Research Networks funding program is destined to be cut back by $20.7 million in its last two years. As well there was no funding to continue the International Science Linkages program beyond this year, although this cut was somewhat offset by the new China fund mentioned above.
Overall, science bodies were relieved that large cuts were avoided. The Australian Academy of Science, while welcoming maintenance of most research funding, said that the Budget lacked inspiration for our technologically advanced future. The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies appear to concur with this view, saying it was business as usual for science.
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Nuclear Waste
The Government announced additional funding to decommission obsolete nuclear facilities operated by ANSTO at the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre and the National Medical Cyclotron at Camperdown. The Government will provide an additional $8.7 million (over four years) to the $9.7 million allocated in 2010–11 to ensure that Australia complies with international best practice for decommissioning nuclear facilities. This measure followed on from $13.2 million provided in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2007–08 to initiate the decommissioning at Lucas Heights.
In the Resources, Energy and Tourism portfolio, the implementation of a legislative regime for a new National Radioactive Waste Management Facility continued, involving consultation with state and territory governments. This cost $4.2 million this year and will cost $2.9 million in the year ahead. Total departmental appropriation for Geoscience Australia in 2011-12 was down by about $4.5 million from its 2010-11 budget.