Making a budget for science

The Albanese government has handed down its first budget since coming to office on a groundswell of support demanding it urgently tackle climate change. But Treasurer Jim Chalmers made no mention of the “existential crisis” in his first budget. Nor did he utter the words “science” or “research”.

The Treasurer described the budget as “solid and sensible” in an era of “budget repair”. But he did find money for some of the ALP’s core election promises: lower child care; safeguarded NDIS and lower costs for pharmaceuticals.

The constraints were around inflation and budget deficits.

The federal government’s policy, which it took to the election just six months ago, also promised to “transform the Australian economy through science and innovation”, and “re-tool Australia’s industries, re-skill our people, build our advanced manufacturing capabilities and deploy and diffuse technology in a way that complements job creation. We will strongly support the research capacities of our universities and the technical capability of TAFE.”

Chalmers says the government will provide 180,000 new TAFE places next year – “the first stage in our plan for nearly half a million fee-free TAFE courses for Australians” – and more than $770 million for better schools, happy and healthier students, and more qualified teachers.

“And we will invest $485 million to create 20,000 new university places over the next two years for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Federal budget 2022 reaction

Misha Schubert, the CEO of Science and Technology Australia, welcomed the general direction of the budget but says more needs to be done.

In strapped financial times, Schubert says, science is the most important strategic investment a nation can make. It’s good to see the continuation of support for research commercialisation along with modest but important new investments in strategic science capabilities for Australia’s economy.

“The next task will be to map out a plan to deepen investment in discovery science to make the next wave of big and bold breakthroughs to secure Australia’s future prosperity,” says Schubert.

The budget papers show a more than doubling in funding of the Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water department to $1.1 billion. Pre-budget announcements already disappointed environmental scientists who fear the money set aside for protection of native species is one-fifth of what’s required. National Parks funding will reduce from $132 million to $105m.

The federal government policy commits it to:”…work with business, industry, universities and research institutes to boost Australia’s investment in research and development as a percentage of GDP, getting it closer to 3% of GDP achieved in other countries. Labor will ensure that the Australian science and research community will be at the heart of this effort to improve Australia’s performance.”

If we’re to honor this pledge, science leaders have said for some time that new money will be required.

The 2022-23 budgeted resourcing for CSIRO of $1.65bn is about $190m higher than for 2021-22, mainly a result of expected higher external revenue. The Australian Research Council funding was lifted from $831m to $866m, while the NHMRC went up from $942m to $956m. In an era of 5–7% inflation, that’s a cut in real terms.

The Bureau of Meteorology has received a real increase in funding with an increase from $433m to $495m.

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic in his post-budget news release focused on stimulating regional manufacturing through a reformed National Reconstruction Fund across seven areas: “…resources, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, transport, medical science, renewables and low emission technologies, defence capabilities and enabling capabilities”.

The Australian Academy of Science welcomes the release of the Australian Government’s 2022-23 budget

The Academy will lead a new regional presence coordinating scientific engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next six years thanks to a $10.3 million investment from the Australian Government. 

Academy President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said the Australian Government’s investment will enable Australia to: “leverage its standing as a science and research leader and engage in strategic science diplomacy in our region and globally. 

“The Government has also made several other significant investments that rely upon science to advance Australian economic and social prosperity. 

“Australians look to science to provide the knowledge, solutions, and advice to guide us through the challenges of our uncertain world.  A world now more frequently experiencing climate induced natural disasters and the threat of pandemics. 

“We recognise a lot of work is in train to revitalise the scientific enterprise and reverse the fourteen-year decline in investment in research and development. It will take time, but it can be done. ” 

 The Academy pointed to these specific initiatives:  

  • The establishment of the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund with seven key priorities in renewables and low emissions, medical science, value-adding resources, enabling capabilities, transport, defence and agriculture, fisheries, food and fibre. 
  • Confirmation of the Government’s intention to establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control. 
  • $105.2 million to support First Nations people to respond to climate change in their communities. The Academy’s Future Earth Australia National Strategy for Just Adaptation, published last month, called for the development of a national Indigenous-led climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy.  
  • Renewal of Australia’s climate policy ambition through greater investment in the Climate Change Authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, net zero and negative emissions, and major investments in Australia’s renewable energy systems. 
  • $2.9 million for the National Science and Technology Council’s provision of science and technology advice to support evidence-informed decision-making and independent science advice to Government 
  • A down payment on meeting Australia’s responsibility to protect our natural biodiversity including support for preventing species extinction, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and advancing environmental law reform 
  • 20,000 new university places for under-represented students, the Startup Year Program and establishing the Australian Universities Accord 
  • $5.8 million for the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program and the independent review into Government programs to ensure they support greater diversity in Australia’s science and technology sectors 
  • $10 million for Questacon to help inspire the next generation of young people to consider STEM careers 

From budget paper #4: Developing talent and leadership in science

The government will provide $47.2m over six years from 2022–23 to support the development of talent and leadership in Australian science and technology. Funding includes:

  • $13.5 million over four years from 2022–23 to strengthen coordinated policy capability to identify, assess and support Australian development of critical and emerging technologies.
  • $10.3 million over six years from 2022–23 for Australia to host the International Science Council’s Regional Presence for Asia and the Pacific and to deepen Australia’s science engagement in the region
  • $10.0 million over three years from 2022–23 to continue delivery of Questacon outreach programs to engage young Australians and science teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, including through touring exhibitions for regional, rural and remote communities.
  • $5.8 million over five years from 2022–23 to support women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) through the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program and to undertake an independent review of existing STEM programs
  • $4.8 million over four years from 2022–23 to develop Australian quantum technology through sponsoring up to 20 PhD research scholarships and encouraging collaboration on quantum research across Australian universities. This cost will be partially met from within the existing funding for the Department of Defence’s Next Generation Technologies Fund
  • $2.9 million in 2022–23 to improve the Prime Minister’s National Science and Technology Council’s provision of science and technology advice and continue support of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science event.

Resources research

The government will provide funding over four years from 2022–23 to support research in the the Australian resources industry. Funding includes:

  • $99.8 million over three years from 2022–23 for the Strategic Critical Minerals Development Program to support Australian critical minerals producers overcome technical and market access barriers. This funding will be offset by partially reversing the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative from the 2022–23 March Budget measure titled Critical Minerals Strategy – implementation and will achieve savings of $100.3 million
  • $50.5 million over four years from 2022–23 to establish the Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub to coordinate and align government, industry and academic research and development efforts in Australia and internationally
  • $10.0 million over three years from 2022–23 to support research and development to advance new commercially viable projects for methane abatement in the resources sector
  • The government will invest $15.0 billion over seven years from 2023–24 to establish the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) to support, diversify and transform Australian industry and the economy through targeted co‑investments in seven priority areas: resources; agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors; transport; medical science; renewables and low emission technologies; defence capability; and enabling capabilities. Funding includes:
  • The government will provide $141.1 million over 10 years from 2022–23 as part of a realignment of investment in carbon capture technologies. Program investments and related policy development will prioritise technology development for hard-to‑-bate industrial sectors (such as cement manufacturing); accelerate carbon dioxide removal and negative emissions technologies (such as direct air capture); and support research opportunities for institutions, as well as industry and international partners.

Last year’s two budgets

2021 Budget

2022 Election budget

Update: 27/10/22 5.30pm: This article was changed to reflect the fact that CSIRO budget was not raised by the government but was higher as a result of expected higher external revenue.

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