Review of R&D system a highlight of the 2024–25 Budget

By Lauren Davis
Wednesday, 15 May, 2024

Review of R&D system a highlight of the 2024–25 Budget

Australia’s science bodies have been broadly positive about the 2024–25 federal Budget — particularly the announcement of a strategic examination of Australia’s research and development (R&D) system.

According to Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic, greater investment in R&D by businesses in Australia is fundamental to maximising the impact of science, research and innovation on our long-term prosperity, security and wellbeing. With this in mind, the government will commission a strategic examination of Australia’s R&D system to determine how to get more value from every taxpayer dollar invested in research, maximise the contribution of science and R&D to the broader economy, and maintain our competitive edge.

The Australian Academy of Science said the strategic examination is a welcome acknowledgement by the government that a stronger, more resilient nation cannot be built with a stagnant, siloed and atomised R&D system based on decades-old settings way past their use-by date. Academy President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said the Academy “has been arguing the case for this long-overdue whole-of-sector analysis since 2018”, describing it as “a necessary precursor to the creation of a strategic roadmap that can direct R&D in Australia and reverse the 14-year decline in investment that has left Australia well below the OECD average, uncompetitive and ill-equipped to meet our national ambitions”.

The Academy noted that investment in Australia’s science and research system is currently spread over 227 programs and 15 federal portfolios, with multiple ministers and departments having key responsibilities. According to Jagadish, “A strategic examination of Australia’s R&D system is the first step to align national effort across the whole of government, industry, universities and philanthropy to create an environment where investment is effective, strategic and scaled.

“The examination is cross-portfolio and cross-sectoral and is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the necessary conditions for science and research to maximise its contribution to our national prosperity,” he added.

Science & Technology Australia (STA) sees the review of the R&D system as a way to chart a course towards investing 3% of GDP in R&D, which will be crucial in order to compete with nations such as the United States, Japan and Germany, who all exceed this target. STA President Professor Sharath Sriram said, “STA has consistently advocated that to maintain our standard of living and create the economy we want for the future, we need to increase R&D expenditure to 3% of GDP as fast as possible.”

He continued, “The review of the R&D system is timely and welcome — it has the potential to better connect the innovation ecosystem to support business, build a thriving economy and accelerate the development of products and solutions. This can reverse the decline in national investment in R&D.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) is pleased to see an ongoing commitment by the government for medical research funding. The Budget papers outline a slightly increased investment in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for 2024–25; an additional $1.4 billion over 13 years from 2024–25 through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to continue to invest in life-saving medical research; and confirmation of the planned National Health and Medical Research Strategy and the National One-Stop Shop for clinical trials (many of these measures were announced earlier this month). AAMRI did note, however, that the Budget did not include the release of further funds from the MRFF, which it had asked to be strategically allocated for an MRFF scheme to fund the full costs of research.

“The National Health and Medical Research Strategy will give us the opportunity to ensure the money allocated for medical research is used strategically and sustainably,” said AAMRI CEO Dr Saraid Billiards. “Our two largest medical research funds are remaining steady in this Budget, so now we turn our attention to working with the government to ensure we have strategic investment that funds the full cost of research, provides career certainty for our future leaders, and allows our researchers to do what they do best.”

Other key investments in science include:

  • a $1.7bn Future Made in Australia Innovation Fund to support innovative green technologies and $1.5bn to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to supercharge investments in renewable energy;
  • $566.1m to Geoscience Australia to map Australia’s resources and critical minerals;
  • $523.2m to establish the Battery Breakthrough Initiative;
  • $466.4m to partner with PsiQuantum and the Queensland Government to build the world’s first commercial‑scale quantum computer in Brisbane;
  • $448.7m to partner with the United States on the Landsat Next satellite program to provide access to critical data to monitor the Earth’s climate, agricultural production and natural disasters;
  • an additional $290.5m over five years to continue delivery of the Australian Antarctic Program;
  • $95m for the Square Kilometre Array, reallocated to help address Australia’s obligations to the project’s construction in Western Australia.

Finally, to support the development of a thriving, skilled and diverse STEM workforce, the government will invest $38.2 million in its response to the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review, in order to scale up the government’s Women in STEM and other programs to attract and retain more people from diverse backgrounds in STEM education and careers. The move has been welcomed by Kylie Walker, Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

“The extension of Women in STEM programs like the Elevate: Boosting Women in STEM scholarship program, delivered by ATSE, is a welcome measure,” Walker said. “This program was favourably reviewed by the government’s Diversity in STEM review and we encourage further investment to propel more diverse cohorts into STEM careers. We also encourage the formation of a council for Diversity in STEM to replace the Women in STEM Ambassador role.”

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