Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

What the Federal Budget Means for Science

Experts comment on how the 2018-19 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science

"This is a good budget for science. It reflects the long-term and strategic approach that is needed for Australia to benefit from science and innovation at a global scale."

Australia’s national supercomputers give scientists across government, industry and universities the processing power for the complex scientific computations needed in an advance society including accurate weather forecasts, drug development, and large-scale astronomy.

We have a long way to go as a nation, particularly on big issues like STEM education and training at school and university and climate change. But we are moving forward together and the Government has made a clear commitment in this Budget to working collaboratively with the science sector to maximise the benefits for all Australians."

Kylie Walker is CEO of Science & Technology Australia
"The 2018 Budget indicates the Government has listened to the need to restore support for major science agencies and invest in research infrastructure to position Australia as a leader in global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation.

The new commitment to $1.9 billion in research infrastructure ($1 billion over forward estimates) following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is very welcome, and major commitments medical research, the Great Barrier Reef, technology infrastructure and space science further strengthen the positive investment for the future of Australia’s STEM sector. The Government has also committed to refocusing the R&D Tax Incentive in line with recommendations made in the recent review.

A return to keeping pace with CPI is very welcome for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO. We’re also pleased to see a boost for measures to engage and inspire all Australians with STEM, as well as specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM.

However we note the future STEM workforce still requires attention – STEM graduate rates are threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian Universities. Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally. This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations."

Professor Tony Cunningham AO is President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI).
"This is a great Budget for medical research, with around $2 billion now committed through the Medical Research Future Fund for new medical research projects. This is exactly where the Australian medical research sector should be heading."

Professor Nalini Joshi is Payne-Scott Professor of Applied Mathematics and ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow at The University of Sydney.
"Budgets enable the future. To have a future-proof progressive, technologically sophisticated society, Australia needs a workforce that is educated and trained to think logically, analytically and quantitatively. A society with only a handful of mathematically trained workers cannot be expected to support the extraordinarily important developments expected in modern life such as precision medicine. Australia is that society: only 0.4% of entering university students study Mathematical sciences, in comparison to the OECD average of 2.5%. To barely reach that average, we would need to multiply the current cohort of senior high school students who are mathematically prepared for University by a factor of 6. The budget contains no action or stimulus to help meet this challenge.

Funding is necessary to: place a mathematics specialist, to mentor teachers in mathematical skills, in every school or every regional group of schools; provide tax incentives for teachers to pursue professional development and further training in mathematics; create stimuli, e.g., merit salary, preferred placement or advanced recognition of years served, for graduates trained in the mathematical sciences to enter and remain in the teaching profession; implement a program to program to encourage and increase pipeline flow in mathematics from school to university and from undergraduate study to graduate study and from PhD to postdoctoral work or industry; and create a program to attract more students training in and going onto careers in the mathematical sciences by establishing a vertically integrated research-led education program across undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral boundaries.

Initiatives recommended in the Decadal Plan for Mathematical Sciences: a vision for 2025 need an agile, pro-active budget focused on developing a future workforce. This budget does not appear to be one of them."

Dr Behzad Fatahi, Associate Professor of Geotechnical and Earthquake Engineering at the University of Technology Sydney.
"Government just announced $24.5 billion investment toward infrastructure projects mainly contributing to building road and rail infrastructure in different states across Australia. This new budget allocation is a part of multi stage and rather long-term plan for investing $75 billion by the federal government in modernising nation’s transport infrastructure. This new investment will create significant job opportunities for various professions from lawyers to civil engineers, from mechanical to geotechnical engineers, accountants, as well as finance and IT experts. This budget allocation to build major infrastructure in our country can stimulate economic growth handsomely and contribute toward reducing the unemployment rate.

Currently Sydney holds a population of 5.6 million, which is a tremendous increase from 4.0 million in 2011. According to the reported published by Australian Bureau of statistics in 2017, this population is projected to increase to a maximum of 11.0 million in 2061. A similar trend could be applicable to other major metropolitans in Australia. This rapid growth in population indisputably needs a significant increase in investment in constructing new infrastructures, such as roads and railway lines.

Thus, considering this major government investments on transport infrastructure, and emphasising that we need to get better at planning and building the infrastructure, there is a golden opportunity as well as an essential need to reduce the future maintenance cost of infrastructure such as roads, railways, dams and bridges which would be potentially suffering from different problems such as excessive or differential settlement. In Australia, the maintenance cost of transport infrastructure has been increasing; for example, over the past 5 years, the expenditure for local road maintenance has increased by $97 million, an annual average growth rate of 1.69%. On the other hand disruption to infrastructure systems and their services can cause tremendous challenges for society, such as a significant reduction in the freight capacity of roads and railway lines and delayed commuter access to ports, airports, industrial areas, and business precincts. Therefore, Australian industries together with research organisations such as higher education sector should focus their research and development efforts on developing efficient construction technologies to reduce future maintenance cost of transport infrastructure, so the return on investment on the upcoming projects could enhance.

Federal government should try to link the national innovation and science agenda with these new infrastructure investments to ensure the smart ideas and new technologies will be proposed and used to reduce the construction and maintenance cost of transport infrastructure to ensure projects are viable. Universities should work hand in hand and more closely with both federal and state governments as well as private sector to ensure skilled work force required to deliver the planned infrastructure can be trained here in Australia rather than relying on overseas experts and workers.

One of the key funded infrastructure projects in NSW is Coffs Harbour bypass, which received $971 million funding from the Federal government. This is a 14 kilometre bypass of Coffs Harbour extending from Englands Road in the south to the Pacific Highway at Sapphire in the north. This is the next big project after the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade (W2B). Coffs Harbour bypass is also the last bottle neck (after the on-going W2B project) in NSW to be removed on the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane. This bypass will result in safer roads while removing 12 traffic lights leading to more efficient transport system with greatly improved local traffic conditions."

John Fischetti is Head of School/Dean of the School of Education/Faculty of Education and Arts at The University of Newcastle.
"The Budget 2018 presentation by the Treasurer implied, but went silent on several items related to education.

  1. An increase in the child care means-tested subsidy was included in the budget and already planned. No mention was made of the crucial role of high quality early childhood education to allow carers to participate in the economy, while having confidence their children are prepared with the fundamental skills and dispositions to be successful in the innovation age. There is a larger investment needed there. Each child deserves the highest quality early childhood experience from the learning sciences, not from babysitting.
  2. The government reiterated its commitment to the new Gonski report recommendations to provide teachers the tools needed to “lift student performance.” No mention of the costs of the new Gonski report’s called for assessment schemes was included. While last week’s report is spot on about current schools’ obsolescence, it contradicts itself on the assembly line assessments that have already failed in New Zealand. That’s a huge cost not discussed, a major reworking of NAPLAN. And, while the need- based funding was mentioned, what wasn’t discussed is that the amounts included are actually significantly less than the first Gonski report recommended. This is actually a cut disguised as an increase.
  3. No mention of the vital role of providing access to higher education, including TAFE and Universities. Recent years’ cuts have put at risk Australia’s future, which is developing the minds and research outputs to innovate our future rather than dig our future out of the ground."

Professor Margaret Gardner is Chair of Universities Australia.
"Just like a deposit on a home, this extra $393 million for major national collaborative research facilities is an instalment on owning our own research future as a country..

Investing in these facilities is like laying the rail and road networks of the 19th and 20th centuries – it's productive infrastructure to deliver tomorrow's discoveries, industries, start-ups and jobs."

The good news on research infrastructure is tempered by the ongoing university funding freeze, which will cut $2.1 billion from universities over the next few years."

Associate Professor Albert Gabric is from Griffith University.
"The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from multiple local stressors including, declining water quality, coastal zone development, and periodic invasions by the crown of thorn starfish. Compounding these local threats are a host of climate change related global problems, including bleaching and acidification and extreme weather events, viz. marine heat waves and cyclones.

These threats to the GBR have been the subject of several major government studies in the last 20 years, incl. Industry Commission Report (2003) and Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2017). The latter report stated: The main source of the primary pollutants (nutrients, fine sediments and pesticides) from Great Barrier Reef catchments is diffuse source pollution from agriculture. These pollutants pose a risk to Great Barrier Reef coastal and marine ecosystems. Progress towards the water quality targets has been slow and the present trajectory suggests these targets will not be met.

Queensland has the largest area of agricultural land of any Australian state and the highest proportion of land area in Australia dedicated to agriculture. Agricultural industries contribute more than $10 billion to the state economy each year. Researchers have recognised for over 25 years that poor water quality due to land use change and farming in the coastal hinterland is fundamentally incompatible with a healthy coral reef ecosystem. The language in recent reports mentions maintaining and improving the reef’s resilience, even though the general concept of ecosystem resilience is difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. The proposed budget allocation of $500 million, while certainly welcome, is a very small step in confronting a classic “wicked problem”, which is by definition extremely difficult or impossible to solve."

Comments compiled by Scimex