Mixed news for science in the 2019-20 Budget

April 03, 2019

The 2019-20 Federal Budget contains mixed news for science, with a number of very welcome announcements along with some cuts to research programs.

Positive measures include $3.4 million new funding to support women in STEM, including the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative led by the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. 

Also included are a raft of initiatives through the Medical Research Future Fund, $25 million new funding for coastal, environment and climate research, $56 million for nuclear medicine and waste management, $5 million for a dark matter particle research facility, $15 million for expanded outreach and education activities through Questacon, and $19.5 million over four years to establish a Space Infrastructure Fund.

Negatives include the abolition of the $3.9 billion Education Investment Fund which could have been used to support strategic research infrastructure; and savings of almost $50 million from the entrepreneurship and industry research programs. 

President of the Academy of Science, Professor John Shine AC, said that while the Academy applauded the range of new initiatives, it was hoped that there would be more focus on science and innovation in the budget given the Government’s emphasis on knowledge and skills.

“It is counterintuitive to seek to produce a surplus by cutting the knowledge economy. The reductions in indexation of research programs over the forward estimates, resulting in cuts of $345 million to university research funding remain concerning.” Professor Shine said. 

“Given the Government’s focus on economic growth it is disappointing that some of the very welcome announcements in this budget went hand in hand with some cuts to Australia’s research programs” Professor Shine said.

FURTHER INFORMATION ON 2019-2020 SCIENCE BUDGET MEASURES

Major science initiatives announced or elaborated in the Budget include:

  • $56.4 million over three years to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to support nuclear medicine production, critical radioactive waste management and nuclear decommissioning activities, and asset management. The Government will also provide an equity injection of $56 million to ensure the continued protection of both the community and the environment.
  • $25 million over four years to establish a coasts, environment and climate science research and education centre at Point Nepean, Victoria. The centre will be led by Monash University and the University of Melbourne and include an interdisciplinary research facility on marine and coastal ecosystems, climate science and environmental management.
  • $15.1 million over three years to expand Questacon’s education and outreach activities.
  • $3.4 million over four years to support women in STEM through the SAGE Initiative and a digital National Awareness Raising Initiative led by the Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey Smith.
  • $19.5 million over four years to establish a Space Infrastructure Fund.
  • $5 million over two years to build the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory to allow the University of Melbourne to join the global research effort to understand dark matter.
  • Funding of $2.9 million over three years to facilitate national leadership in agricultural innovation.
  • $3.6 million over two years from 2019-20 to trial a National Innovation Games through which students will work together to solve innovation, technology and/or digital challenges set by a corporate sponsor.
  • $0.5 million over five years (and $0.1 million ongoing from 2023-24) to establish an Australian Antarctic Science Council that would support reform initiatives announced as part of the Government’s response to the Australian Antarctic Science Program Governance Review 2017

Savings measures include:

  • Abolishing the $3.9 billion Education Investment Fund and using the capital to establish a new Emergency Response Fund.
  • Savings of $48.9 million over five years from 2018-19 from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the Industry Growth Centres Initiative
  • Reductions in indexation of science and research programs over the forward estimates resulting in savings of:
    • $345 million to university research funding through the research support program.  

© 2019 Australian Academy of Science

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