Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How Science Fared in the 2019 Federal Budget


Experts comment on how the 2019-20 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

"A failure to keep pace with inflation for most national research agencies is a stark concern for the science and technology sector.

This has been coupled with cuts to the Research Support Program, which compound the cuts this program suffered in December - severely limiting our universities’ ability to conduct world-leading research.

Research at tertiary institutions is also severely hampered by the reallocation of $3.9 billion from the Education Investment Fund (EIF) to a new Emergency Response Fund. While it is important to support those affected by emergencies including floods and fires, taking funding away from education to fund emergency responses is a false economy. STEM education should be supported in a way that increases our National capacity to predict, prevent and respond to the impacts of national emergencies.

It is good to see that research funding agencies have been supported to meet the costs of inflation this year, something STA has called for over many years.

Bold investments in medical research and development through the Medical Research Future Fund will empower Australian scientists and technologists to become world leaders in their field.

What we did not see in this budget was an ambition to be the clever country in all fields. A Fund to support the translation and commercialisation of knowledge built through non-medical science research programs would complement the MRFF and amplify the economic returns that STEM brings for Australia."

Professor Emma Johnston AO is President of Science & Technology Australia

"While the Academy applauds 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 and by cutting funding to Australia’s key science and research agencies such as the CSIRO and the Australian Research Council.

The reductions in indexation of science and research programs over the forward estimates, resulting in cuts of $345 million to university research funding through the research support program are particularly concerning.

This budget also outlines cuts of $6.73 million to ARC research funding, immediately reversing part of the long-delayed return to indexation announced in the 2018-19 Budget, and cuts of $16.54 million to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) and $21.5 million over the forward estimates to the CSIRO.

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 these damaging cuts to Australia’s research programs."

Professor John Shine AC is President of the Academy of Science.

“With a $7.1 billion surplus announced for next financial year, now is the time to make long-term investments for Australia — by skilling our future workforce and fostering research breakthroughs to drive economic growth.”

“In tonight’s Budget, the Government has missed a prime opportunity to reverse its previous $2.1 billion freeze on student places and $328 million cuts to university research.”

“These cuts are the wrong decision for Australia’s future and they will deny Australians access to university, and to life-changing and life-saving research breakthroughs.”

Catriona Jackson is Chief Executive of Universities Australia.

“There remain clear structural and organisational cultural differences for men and women in the STEMM workforce. While there is a lot of gender equality work going on, we will struggle to reach equality by 2030 at the current pace. There remains an unequal distribution of power, persistent and significant wage differences and women have lower rate of visibility in the workforce – that diminished ‘presence’ goes against them. We have to get much better at being serious about flexible working arrangements so that the traditional reliance on being in the office 9-5 (or longer) is a distant memory.

We also need more females in STEMM management and leadership roles so it’s tangible. ‘You actually can be, what you can see’. We need to create more career paths and urgently close the earning gap. But until there’s a broad understanding of the ‘so what’ factor with gender equality, we won’t equalise the disparity. So, the what’s it in for organisations, society and the country to have gender equality in STEMM has to be appreciated and seriously backed. We’d see better innovation output and it’s estimated, a boost of around 12% to our annual GDP by 2025 in a best-in-region scenario.”

Professor Cobie Rudd is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Edith Cowan University.

"My recent research report for the National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC), focuses on high school girls' perceptions of the Construction Industry. The findings revealed that school girls do not have a broad understanding of the breadth of careers in STEM, that few considered construction a STEM career, and most don’t have a clear understanding of the range of construction opportunities out there.

They are, however, acutely aware of the impact of male domination in the construction industry, and have valid concerns about how they will be treated. This is adversely impacting their willingness to consider the industry as a career.

In order to attract young women into male dominated industries, like the construction industry, attention is required at all stages in career development lifecycle. We need to provide better knowledge about the diverse career opportunities available and their benefits. But we also need to improve the rates of progression and retention for women already in the industry – as they become the visible champions and spokespeople for younger women developing their career aspirations."

Dr Phillippa Carnemolla is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney.

"I am happy that the Government recognises that STEM is crucial to our nation’s future and we should stop wasting half our national brainpower.

It’s good that they are offering $3.4M in tonight's budget, including $1.8M to keep SAGE going for another year, but it’s nowhere near enough. SAGE is a terrific program because it encourages institutions to make really practical changes that encourage women to take on STEM roles and stick with it. I would have liked to see a much broader commitment to keep SAGE going into the future.

But mainly I worry that the recent withdrawal of fifty times this amount in research funding from universities is making it impossible for them to achieve SAGE targets anyway. A lot of things that would really help women cost money (top of my list is technical assistance to tide research over when a woman is on family leave). Universities have fewer and fewer resources to improve their support of women in STEM.

Further shrinking of University funding exacerbates problems in the workplace and makes it even more unfriendly for women. Academics are under more pressure to publish, have more responsibility to students (now “clients”), and more distractions toeing innumerable administrative lines. The job is getting more impossible for everyone – and, as usual, women suffer disproportionately.

$1.5m for a national digital awareness-raising initiative sounds like a good idea, but I’d like to know to whom it is targeted, how its success will be assessed and how it will fit in with the many other initiatives, like 'Choose Maths'."

Distinguished Professor Jenny Graves AO is Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and the 2017 winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Science.

“The Telethon Kids Institute welcomes the Federal Government’s budget announcement of a $3.4 million initiative to tackle the under-representation of women in STEMM. Currently, the majority of science graduates are women, but despite large numbers starting their careers within the scientific workforce, women scientists account for under 20 per cent of senior academic positions.

The issue of gender inequity needs to be prioritised and improved in order to have the necessary diverse talent pool of human intellect and skill to apply to big scientific challenges, grow our capacity for innovation, our workforce and economy and to become global scientific leaders. This budget initiative gives the issue recognition as one of national importance. The Institute is committed to being champions of gender equity, diversity and inclusivity – and that’s why we are one of 32 medical research institutes and universities around Australia participating in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot. This is a commitment we are proud of and will work towards paving the way for greater opportunities for women in science.”

Professor Deborah Strickland is a Researcher and Athena Swan Chair at the Telethon Kids Institute.

"Diverse teams perform better in the workplace, and that having a variety of views leads to better outcomes. Research has shown again and again that there is a direct link between diversity and more innovative thinking.

That’s why it’s critical to have more women in science. Universities have an obligation to set the lead for society by example. With a female Chancellor, female Dean of Science, a female Dean of health, and female head of our school of life sciences, UTS is demonstrating a commitment from the top-down to lift the number of women in STEMM. We need it.

In my team at the CNRM, women outnumber men. Mentoring young scientists is something I’ve been committed to throughout my career, and I can say first-hand that gender diversity leads to better ideas, better results, and superior science.”

Professor Bryce Vissel is Director, Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney.

"Perhaps the Government needs to fully fund the NDIS to treat its own deafness to climate change? To not respond to the growing chorus from the Australian public, the rural sector, industry, the youth, and the health sector indicates either profound deafness or simply a case of wilful refusal listen to their needs.

This budget is full of lollies and tantalising teasers, but completely fails to deliver a healthy future.

Australia wants a future that is safe. They want their government to protect them, their families and their future from the greatest risk – as judged by the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report - Climate Change!

Obsessing with relative low-level risk of terror threats whilst ignoring that existing and future populations are in real and present danger of suffering serious loss of health and livelihoods to the ravages of climate change is at best misguided. At worst, it smacks of intended negligence.

Steering Australia towards a low carbon economy, building community and industry adaptive resilience to future climate disruptions is the task of budgets. It is the task of good governance, of governments that govern for the people and for their collective future."

Dr Liz Hanna is Chair of the Environmental Health Working Group at the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Institute, The Australian National University.

"$158 billion in tax cuts (plus an unknown cost from 2024 for cutting the 32.5% tax rate to 30%) on top of the $140 billion already legislated. The budget left little to the three million Australians that live in poverty. Tax cuts for the well off took precedence while the households in the lowest 40% by income get no benefit from tax cuts at all.

Importantly, there was no increase to Newstart. Newstart is just $40 a day. Lifting Newstart by $75 a week would cost $3 billion a year, one quarter of the cost of the tax cuts promised. The proposed Govt energy payment, the one off electricity payment, will not be available to this group of vulnerable Australians.

For the NFP sector there is proposed increases investment in the fields of mental health, aged care, carers, and Indigenous organisations (but a disappointingly small $5 million over 4 years allocated to respond to suicide among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people). Men’s and women’s sheds will be tax deductible. While worthy this is an ad hoc approach to the DGR framework. For the homeless, the Government's strategy appears to limit its exposure to the cost through subsidising experiments to leverage private sector investment through complex social impact bonds."

Associate Professor Bronwen Dalton is Head of the Department of Management at the UTS Business School.