While medical research receives a boost through a new future fund within the health portfolio, research and development related agencies in many other areas of science are facing tight times. The main specific budget measure restriction (‘Science and Research Agencies – reduced funding’) details reductions in general research funding over four years for three agencies in the industry portfolio:
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – $111.4 million
- Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) – $27.6 million
- Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) – $7.8 million.
This represents a total cut of $146.8 million to 2017–18. In addition, all agencies are subject to efficiency dividend requirements.
However, two of these same agencies benefit from other specific funding measures. This includes ANSTO gaining $31.6 million over the four years for operation of its Open Pool Australian Lightwater (OPAL) reactor, as well as $25.8 million to enable facilitation of the shipment and processing of its spent nuclear fuel assemblies. Similarly, CSIRO gains $65.7 million over the period to assist with operation of a new marine research vessel, to which it must also contribute. The Government is also to provide $22.6 million over three years to study design options and a second stage business case for a National Radioactive Waste Management complex.
After all this is taken into account, CSIRO will see its total government appropriation drop $30.9 million this year, down to $745.3 million. ANSTO will have $252.8 million in total government-sourced funds this year, while AIMS gains $5.5 million to $38.8 million for the year. Total net resourcing for Geoscience Australia drops from $201.3 million to $168.1 million. The Office of Spatial Policy is to shift to the communications portfolio.
Some of these agencies will immediately lose staff over the coming year: CSIRO drops 489 to 5034, ANSTO loses 63 to 1204 and Geoscience Australia declines 96 to 620, while AIMS drops 2 to 202.
The Co-operative Research Centres programme expense rises slightly this year to $149.8 million, but declines over the remaining four years as the Government reduces funding. The CRC program notes a $80 million cut over the next four years, with the 17th selection round not to proceed. A review of the CRC Programme is expected to commence by 30 June 2014 for finalisation by 30 March 2015.
For science education and communication, the budget provides $28 million over four years for activities including the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, National Science Week and some Questacon programs. As well, there is funding to support the expansion of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University amounting to $42 million.
Further detail of funding across portfolios may be available when the Australian Government's Science, Research and Innovation Budget tables are available. At one time they appeared with the budget, but are now not available for weeks or months.
The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) laments a $74.9 million cut over three years to Australian Research Council (ARC) activities, along with a reduction to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) of $120 million and the charging of research student tuition fees for their PhD and Masters programs. The AAS welcomes $100 million over four years in new support for Rural R&D Corporations, and the medical research funds.
The Science Technology Australia lobby body notes $150 million for an additional year (2015–16) of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). This may assist large science infrastructure such as the synchrotron and astronomy supercomputers.
From June 2016, National ICT Australia limited (NICTA) must be self-funding. The Government is to provide $84.9 million funding for the next two years. To enable this, the Department of Communications and the ARC will each contribute $21.4 million in 2014–15 and $21.0 million in 2015–16.
The Government made an election commitment of $24 million over three years from 2014–15 for a new Antarctic Gateway Partnership, between the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the University of Tasmania and CSIRO to provide for collaborative larger scale scientific research. The money is to be used to transport scientists onto the ice and to the Southern Ocean area. The Government has also approved the process to procure a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis, with the new icebreaker to be based in Hobart. However, specific funding is not clear yet for the vessel. Ongoing forward funding in the budget provides for Antarctic research, transport and station operation.
Regarding the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), the Government says that it is establishing the Fund from 1 January 2015 (subject to the passage of legislation), with the uncommitted funds in the existing Health and Hospitals Fund to be transferred into the Fund at its inception. See the separate briefings on health policy for further information on the scheme’s funding.
The Fund's capital is set to be preserved in perpetuity, with net interest earnings distributed to support medical research through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). If legislation is passed, the fund will start paying out from 2015–16 ($20 million in that year), increasing to $500 million in 2019–20 and to about $1 billion by 2022 and thereafter.
It is undoubtedly true that this is a large endowment, and that medical research in Australia is likely to benefit considerably from the funds. How exactly they are spent, however, is an important question. A controversial issue in medical research funding is the relative importance of preventative versus curative health measures. The discussion in that area looks set to continue.
. Ibid., pp. 128, 102.
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