The 2016–17 Budget provides funding for long term science
initiatives and maintains support for science in general, supporting commitments
made in the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), launched in December
2015. The stated purpose of NISA is to promote investment over the long term in
research infrastructure, to support collaboration between industry and research,
and to place ‘innovation and science at the heart of policy making’.
NISA contains funding for science infrastructure and for new research centres
and collaborations. The Australian Academy of Science has welcomed the focus on
science infrastructure and long term research programs in the 2016–17 Budget.
Investment in infrastructure
The Australian Government will directly fund the Australian
Synchrotron from July, as announced in NISA last December, replacing its
existing mix of Commonwealth, Victorian and university support with a federal commitment
of $520 million over the next 10 years. The Synchrotron is used
to image the structure of materials down to the atomic level, and is a useful
tool for many areas of science, attracting international researchers. The
budget announcement resolves funding uncertainty for the facility; the
Government had to step in last year with $13 million to keep it open.
ANSTO also receives additional departmental funding; its precise allocation is
unstated but funds will go towards increased nuclear medicine production, as
well as extended nuclear waste storage.
The Government is also providing $294 million to the Square
Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope over the next ten years. The SKA is an
internationally significant, multinational project which is building the
world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. In addition, the Government
will extend funding for the Australian Astronomical Observatory into 2019–20. The NISA initiative will also strengthen Australia’s capability in
quantum computing research, with $20 million over four years to the Centre for
Quantum Computation and Communication Technology to develop a silicon quantum
circuit computer system.
Focus on resources
Of the six Industry Growth Centres in NISA, two have a focus
on mining and fossil fuels. National Energy Resources Australia, which is
responsible for delivering the activities of the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources
Growth Centre, will connect industry and researchers, reduce regulatory
barriers and ‘foster community support
through further understanding the social, environmental, economic and
operational consequences of industry activity’. The Mining
Equipment, Technology and Services Growth Centre will foster collaboration
between businesses and will sponsor a mentorship program in the sector.
These two centres will share in the $248 million over the next four years for
the six new Industry Growth Centres.
The Government’s interest in resources is also demonstrated
by $100.5 million in funding over four years for Geoscience Australia to model
the mineral, petroleum and groundwater resources in regions of northern
Australia and South Australia, so as to support new mining site exploration.
Long term research
Over the next three years, $49.05 million will be restored
to the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Programme,
which lost $107 million in the last two budgets, leading to a cancellation of
the 2015 funding round.
CRCs are collaborations between private research companies and universities,
and are funded for 10–15 years.
Funding for the Australian Research Council has not changed
significantly. However, the Linkage Projects scheme, which funded over $180
million in research grants in 2014–15,
will change from a rounds-based application system to accepting continuous
applications in an attempt to increase commercial returns from research.
Australia’s presence in Antarctica has been funded until
2050 with $496.2 million to maintain our environmental, economic, scientific,
security and strategic interests on the continent. This is in line with the Australian
Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan,
released recently. In the short term no additional money has been provided over
the forward estimates for the Antarctic program, and any additional funding up
until 2019–20 will be redirected from the Department of Environment or Defence.
An extra $75.1 million in funding has been provided to upgrade and modernise
infrastructure in Hobart and Antarctica prior to the launch of the new
icebreaker research vessel in 2020.
Trends in science funding
In 2015–16, government research and development (R&D) funding,
as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increased for the first time
in five years to 0.59%. The percentage of GDP
going to government R&D for 2016–17 will only be accurately determined when
the 2016–17 Science, Research and Innovation Budget Tables are published
in a few months.
Five Year Trend: Total net resourcing ($'000)
Australian Institute of Marine
Source: Parliamentary Library
Five Year Trend: Average staffing level
Source: Parliamentary Library
Looking at agency resourcing and staffing, over the last
five years CSIRO has had a decline in funding and staff, although funding for
the organisation has rebounded somewhat over the last two years. Over the same
period, Geoscience Australia has benefited from the focus on energy and
resources, gaining significant funding for supporting mining and petroleum exploration
both on and offshore. However, it has not received a proportionate increase in staff.
All online articles accessed May 2016.
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