Government signals intentions in 2014 Budget

The 2014‒2015 Federal Budget was a significant milestone for the new Coalition Government to set out its intentions for science, research and innovation in Australia.

A few notable announcements in the Budget were overshadowed by cuts to key science agencies and programs, the most attention-grabbing being the establishment of a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, which, if established, could double the Government’s investment in medical research within a decade. The medical research fund has been tied to the passage of health savings measures by Parliament, with $5 from the new GP co-payment to be directed to the fund. Other positives included a new icebreaker for Antarctic research and a supercomputer at the Bureau of Meteorology.

The Academy strongly advocated in its pre-Budget submission for continuation of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships and an ongoing replacement scheme for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), and it was pleasing to see positive announcements on both fronts. The Future Fellowships scheme will now continue, albeit a smaller program offering 100 fellowships per year, and a further round of NCRIS funding has been announced for 2015‒16.

Unfortunately most science agencies and programs, with the exception of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, received a decrease in their budgets over the forward estimates. Some of the most significant cuts are being incurred by CSIRO, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the ARC (particularly the Linkage Projects program), the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program, and the discontinuation of funding for NICTA beyond 2016.

These cuts include an ‘efficiency dividend’ being applied to ARC research funding, and the suspension of this year’s CRC round for new applicants. Other changes impacting on science include introducing tuition fees for postgraduate students, increased tuition fees for undergraduate students, and the winding up of both the Education Investment Fund and the Innovation Investment Fund.

Further details about the Budget measures and their impact on science, research and innovation can be found in the Academy's analysis report and in a commentary by the Academy's Secretary Science Policy, Professor Les Field AM FAA.

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