Science and Health

Science

Matthew L James
Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Section

Introduction

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) received the bulk of the funding for science initiatives, with a focus on energy, nanotechnology and astronomy. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) received substantial funding for new measures. Energy market reforms, energy efficiency and development support initiatives were modestly funded.

CSIRO

CSIRO will receive $2.8 billion over four years as already provided for in forward estimates. The new amounts are $664.5, $681.5, $703.2 and $730.1 million over four successive years. A new quadrennial funding agreement will replace the previous triennial funding agreement.

National Research Flagships

The CSIRO National Research Flagships program received a $174 million boost to establish three new flagships for climate adaptation, niche manufacturing and minerals energy development as well as continuing energy research.

The program received $43.6 million over four years for a new National Research Flagship on Climate Adaptation to improve climate variability predictions.

The program also received $60 million to extend the existing Energy Transformed Flagship, to focus on transport technologies for a sustainable future, specifically to research bio-fuels, the storage of high density natural gas and conversion of coal to liquids, and gas to liquids.

A new Minerals Down Under Flagship for minerals and energy development will investigate new mining and processing technologies. The Flagship will receive $34.6 million from the Australian Government over four years, to enable CSIRO to work with Geoscience Australia and industry to target discovery through the development of advanced exploration systems, drilling and development of future mining systems, processing technologies for resources, and development of solutions for sustainable processing.

The Australian Government is establishing a new National Research Flagship for Niche Manufacturing within CSIRO, with a funding commitment of $36.2 million, with the aim of adding further value to existing high value-add segments of the manufacturing industry and to create a new wave of niche industries based on nanotechnology.

A Rejuvinating Manufacturing Platform will be established within the Flagship to act as an interface for small and medium enterprises and other manufacturers….The Flagship will also support the roll-out of the Australian Government’s National Nanotechnology Strategy.

The Flagship program, especially given its wide ambit and commercial focus, has attracted some criticism. In response to the Budget, the CSIRO Staff Association claimed that:

The Government has not come to terms with the importance of wide-ranging scientific R&D to meet the very big challenges of energy, climate change and water. [It] will leave many critical areas of research, such as forestry and mainstream manufacturing still out in the cold. We expect it will hit agricultural research the hardest.

National Nanotechnology Strategy

A $21.5 million National Nanotechnology Strategy was announced on 1 May 2007, by the Prime Minister John Howard and the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, as part of the Industry Statement:

Australia is already a world leader in nanotechnology. CSIRO has undertaken over 40 separate nanotechnology projects and over 60 nano-focused companies have emerged in the last five years. CSIRO's new $36.2 million Niche Manufacturing Flagship will focus on developing nanotechnology applications. The National Strategy will draw together industry, researchers, the community and government to:

  • Establish a nano-particle measuring capability at the National Measurement Institute;
  • Address regulations and standards; and
  • Provide balanced advice to the community on nanotechnology.

The funding commitment is $21.5 million over four years to 30 June 2011. Inquiries for the National Nanotechnology Strategy are initially through Biotechnology Australia in the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)

ANSTO will receive $663 million over the next four years. Funding for new measures amounted to $61 million over the next four years; $22 million ($5.5 million per annum over 4 years) to support operations of the new OPAL research reactor; $35 million for the automation of ANSTO Radiopharmaceuticals and Industrials production ($30 million in 2007-08 and $5 million in 2008-09, the latter funded internally); and $4 million for radioactive waste compaction equipment to reduce the volume of low-level waste stored at ANSTO.

Funding to maximise OPAL’s potential and to provide state-of-the-art radiopharmaceutical production processes is consistent with ANSTO’s critical role in the production of Australia’s radiopharmaceutical supply for medical applications in Australia and its near neighbours.

Co-operative Research Centres (CRCs)

Funding for the CRCs program was increased from $189.4 million (2006-07) to $212.3 million (2007-08).

The Cooperative Research Centre Association has voiced its disappointment claiming that the forward budget commitment for the CRC program has remained unchanged, despite their hopes that there would have been an increase in funding. Under the CRC rolling program arrangement, existing CRCs may rebid late in their 7-year life in competition with new CRC proposals, for the government component (averaging around 22% of a CRC’s total funding) of the next seven year funding. Failure in this bid process will mean an existing CRC will be wound up.

2008 is a key year for this highly successful Programme. We have 22 existing CRCs eligible to apply for a rebid, plus a yet unknown number of new prospects. The simple fact is that with no change to the Programme’s budget, we could see as many as 15 CRCs being forced to wind up their operations. [1]

Synchrotron

The Budget provided a $50 million grant in support of the Australian Synchrotron, in addition to $14 million provided through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy towards the cost of constructing the beam-lines.

The Synchrotron [2] is located adjacent to Monash University at Clayton, Victoria and is expected to open in 2007. The device allows the structure of materials to be examined at molecular and atomic scale, and compositions determined quickly. It has applications in medical research through its finely detailed x-ray capabilities and it can be used in micro-manufacturing.

Astronomy and Space

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio-telescope – design, development and building; is to receive $37.2 million over the four year period along with a $27.5 million related capital expenditure by CSIRO over three years to purchase plant and equipment. The telescope will enhance Australia’s reputation in astronomy as a contender to host the $1.8 billion international square kilometre array project to build the world’s largest radio telescope in the outback of Western Australia. South Africa remains the other contender in the global bid.

There was no funding to rejuvenate the former National Space Program, despite the call by the Space Policy Advisory Group “Space: A Priority for Australia” 2006 policy submission, seeking a framework for national program action, security and space data access. Meanwhile, the first Australian Decadal Plan for Space Science is in preparation.

Energy Market Reforms and Development Support

$12.7 million over 6 years has been appropriated for energy market reform initiatives to be managed by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources. Energy efficiency in the gas and electricity markets, as well as overall efficiency across industry, government and the community, oil and gas security in the context of fuel emergency preparedness, and geothermal energy and hydrogen technology initiatives will be developed to improve the competitiveness and reliability of the Australian energy sector. The initiatives will principally have a support role but include attention to the roll-out of smart meters [3] , the development of a national gas market, gas and electricity retailing regulation, and the creation of a Geothermal Industry Development Framework for the geothermal energy industry [4] and a Hydrogen Technology Roadmap [5] .

Any substantial developments of the exciting energy technologies, geothermal and hydrogen, have great potential to transform the Australian energy supply profile. Geothermal energy is a near-term prospect. This energy source has the potential to provide greenhouse gas emission-free base load electric power generation. Currently listed-company Geodynamics Ltd geothermal project near Innamincka (SA) is at advanced feasibility stage and electric power generation could commence as early as 2009 or 2010. The hydrogen technology program aims to articulate what contribution hydrogen technology may make to Australia’s energy needs.

Sustainable, efficient and secure energy supply and greenhouse gas reduction imperatives clearly deserve serious attention. The Australian regards the commitment in this Budget to energy market reform as “modest”. [6]

Health and Food

Louise Emmett
Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Section

Introduction

Medical Research Institutes will share around $500 million to fund development and expansion projects addressing innovative drugs and new treatments for conditions such as cerebral palsy, cancer, heart disease and mental health problems. It is expected that other initiatives in the Budget such as immunization programmes, Type 2 diabetes tests, mosquito eradication programmes and provision for assistance with the psychological impact of the drought will alleviate community needs in the Health Science area.

Highly respected medical authorities including Professor Ian Frazer and the AMA have argued that more attention needed to be given to medical issues. Professor Ian Frazer lobbied for $100 million investment is a new centre to test potential new products through to the point of commercialisation. As well, the AMA identified Indigenous health and rural health measures as under-resourced in the Budget. The AMA had called for a minimum of $460 million recurrent new Indigenous health funding each year.

Medical Research and Development

Through Department of Health and Ageing programs, the Government will provide $486 million in 2006-07 to fund development and expansion projects by medical research facilities. Funding will go to 15 facilities (NSW 4; Qld 2; SA 1; Vic 4;WA 2; NT 2) and will focus on cancer, brain, heart research and infectious diseases.

Immunisation

The Department of Health and Ageing will administer the following funds for immunisation programmes under the banner Protecting your Health:

  • National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) (a common virus in the population) $103.5 million over 5 years to vaccinate 2-13 year old girls and catch-up programmes for 13-18 year old girls and 18-26 year old women.
  • Q fever is a bacterial condition affecting abattoir workers and others who have close contact with livestock and their products.  The Government has allocated $16.6 million for immunisation over 5 years.
  • Rotavirus gastroenteritis vaccine $124.4 million over 5 years targeting the 250,000 babies born in Australia each year. Vaccination of babies aged 2-6 months will reduce the risk of developing severe rotavirus gastroenteritis by over 86 per cent.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases among people aged 40 years and over, in particular among those with excess weight and a family history of diabetes. However, the number of children and people under 40 years of age being diagnosed with the condition is increasing. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 85–90 per cent of people with diabetes.

Through the Department of Health and Ageing the Commonwealth Government will fund up to $103.5 million over 4 years as its contribution to a cost-shared initiative with state and territory governments focusing on 40–49 year olds to take a “tick” test; funding includes $1.0 million over two years to develop the “tick” test – a national risk assessment tool.

Mosquito Eradication in Torres Strait and Groote Eylandt

Following recent incursions of species of mosquito capable of spreading dengue fever, the Government will provide $2.7 million over three years to help Queensland and Northern Territory governments fund mosquito eradication programmes in the Torres Strait and Groote Eylandt.

Drought Affected Communities

Training is required for workforce and community leaders to be able to recognise and respond to the early warnings of emotional distress. Health practitioners and other drought relief workers need assistance and awareness of self-help and other services needs to be raised.

Some $10.1 million will be provided through the Department of Health and Ageing over two years from 2007–08 to individual Divisions of General Practice to support mental health professionals and community leaders respond to the psychological impact of drought. $20.6 million also will be provided over four years building on COAG’s Mental Health – mental health services in rural and remote areas (2006–07 Budget).

Food Standards

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) develops food standards and joint codes of practice with industry covering the content and labelling of food sold in Australia and New Zealand. FSANZ also undertakes national coordination of food surveillance and food recall systems, providing food handling advice to consumers and conducting research.

The Government will provide $12.7 million over four years to increase FSANZ resources, to reduce the time taken to develop new food standards and address the demands and concerns of industry and consumers regarding food safety.

Endnotes



 

[1] .     Cooperative Research Centre Association Budget night media release, 8 May 2007 Budget a little disappointing, but there’s still hope!

[2] .     A synchrotron is a large machine (about the size of a football field) that accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light. As the electrons are deflected through magnetic fields they create extremely bright light. The light is channelled down beamlines to experimental workstations where it is used for research. It is recognised internationally that research using synchrotron light is a mainstream activity that provides essential information in the materials and chemical sciences, the life sciences and molecular and environmental science.

[3] .     A “smart meter” is an advanced meter that identifies electricity consumption in more detail than a conventional basic domestic meter. While a “basic meter” accumulates the measurement of electricity consumption for the period between reads, a “smart meter” will, typically, provide consumption data in half-hourly intervals. The “smart meter” (also referred to as an interval meter) may also deliver the readings over a communications network to a remote location for monitoring and billing purposes.

[4] .     Geothermal energy is a renewable energy. Hot fractured rock (HFR) geothermal energy is produced using heat extracted from buried hot granites by circulating waters through an engineered, artificial reservoir or underground heat exchanger. These hot granites represent a massive source of renewable energy, free from CO2 emissions. The development of HFR geothermal energy relies on existing technologies. HFR geothermal projects are currently underway in France, Switzerland, Germany, California, and Japan. Australia has a recognised potential for the development of HFR geothermal energy.

[5] .     Hydrogen is an energy storage medium, not a primary energy source, but is an environmentally cleaner source of energy to end-users, particularly in transportation applications (vehicles, aircraft) without release of pollutants (such as greenhouse gasses) at the point of end use. Commercial production is still a long way off.

[6] .     Warren, M 2007 Incentives risk driving solar-cell costs through roof, The Australian, 9 May 2007, p. 8.

 

 

 

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