Science and Innovation

Budget Review 2016–17 Index

Kate Loynes

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’.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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’.[5] The Mining Equipment, Technology and Services Growth Centre will foster collaboration between businesses and will sponsor a mentorship program in the sector.[6] 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.[7]

Long term research

Over the next three years, $49.05 million will be restored to the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Programme,[8] which lost $107 million in the last two budgets, leading to a cancellation of the 2015 funding round.[9] 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,[10] 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,[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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%.[14] 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)


est. actual


1,633,696 1,311,098 1,248,688 1,616,633 1,511,247


354,086 416,218 368,848 312,480 330,688

Geoscience Australia

185,756 201,343 277,098 252,506 248,047

Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

109,021 90,606 95,887 97,301 97,436

Source: Parliamentary Library

Five Year Trend: Average staffing level


est. actual[18]
est. actual[19]
est. actual[20]
est. actual


5,715 5,523 4,970 5,056 5,078


1,224 1,267 1,227 1,257 1,257

Geoscience Australia

690 716 602 584 590


202 204 210 208 207

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.

[1].          Australian Government, National Innovation and Science Agenda Report, December 2015.

[2].          Australian Academy of Science (AAS), ‘Academy welcomes funding boost for Antarctic Science and Geoscience Australia’, AAS website, 3 May 2016.

[3].          The current budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Portfolio Budget Statements 2016-17 Budget Related Paper No. 1.12: Industry, innovation and science portfolio, 2016; Australian Government, National Innovation and Science Agenda Report, December 2015

[4].          Australian Synchrotron, ‘Australian Synchrotron Development Plan’ Australian Synchrotron website; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015-16: budget paper no 1.12 Industry and science portfolio, 2015, p. 101.

[5].          Australian Government, ‘Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre’, Australian Government Business website.

[6].          Australian Government, ‘Mining Equipment, Technology and Services Growth Centre’, Australian Government Business website.

[7].          Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2 2016–17, p. 129

[9].          J Rice, ‘Australian science is no better off after the 2015 budget’, The Conservation, 18 May 2015; Australian Government, ‘Previous selection rounds’, Australian Government Business website.

[10].       Australian Research Council (ARC), Annual Report 2014–15, ARC, 2015.

[11].       Australian Government, Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, 2016.

[12].       Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2 2016–17, p. 88.

[14].       Research and Development spending figure for 2015–16 taken from The Australian Government’s 2015–16 Science, Research and Innovation Budget Tables and GDP for 2015–16 calculated from real GDP forecast in Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1 2016–17, following methodology in ABC Fact Check, ‘Fact check: Science, research and innovation spending cut to 'historic low', ABC FactCheck website, 7 October 2014.


All online articles accessed May 2016. 

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