2021–22 federal budget

The Australian Government treasurer Josh Frydenberg brought down his third budget tonight, and the news for the science, technology and university sectors is… mixed.

The Australian Academy of Science points out that that the budget contains no significant new funding for fundamental discovery science and no initiatives to stem the loss of university science jobs.

On the flip side, the Academy is pleased the government has stepped towards future-proofing Australia by choosing to support development of capability to manufacture vaccines.

Academy President Professor John Shine says: “The Academy welcomes the commitment to develop an Australian mRNA manufacturing capability to fight COVID-19, the flu and future pandemics.

“Developing the capability will allow Australia to build resilience to future pandemics and potential biosecurity threats that require us to have the onshore capacity to mass produce vaccines.”

The government’s $1.9 billion over five years for vaccines includes funding for ‘surge’ workforce, vaccine delivery, money for the states for the rollout and hard-dollar commitments for monitoring and reporting, distribution logistics and storage, and a communications campaign.

The budget says there’ll be funding to develop an onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability, but it doesn’t say how much.

Looking at some other matters:

  • As part of the response to the Samuel review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, the government will provide a total of nearly $29 million four years to make improvements. (To put that in perspective, announced total funding for sport includes nearly $130m over the next three years.)
  • A national artificial intelligence centre and four AI and digital capability centres will be created over the next four years at a cost of $54m. The centres are intended to support small and medium businesses aiming to use AI. Another $34m (over four years) will go to grants for business/government AI capability “to solve national challenges”, and $20m+ over several years to attract and train AI specialists.
  • One of the three organisations granted tax-deductible status from 1 July 2021 is Scripture Union Queensland. (The others are Australian Associated Press and the Virtual War Memorial Ltd.)
  • Funding of more than $200m (including forward estimates) to improve recycling facilities by addressing infrastructure gaps in waste management and resource recovery systems, and to improve organic waste processing. There’s also money allocated to boost recycling.
  • Funding has been allocated to stillbirth research and dementia care.
  • The government’s commitment to $387.2 million over 10 years for the full SKA Observatory in WA was confirmed.
  • The university sector seems to be left in limbo without clarity on borders reopening and hotel quarantine, and the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The budget includes no specific funding for universities.

The Academy of Science also welcomed other measures to improve climate adaptation, support for a National Soils Strategy and biodiversity on agricultural lands, and funding to establish the Australian Climate Service.

Funding was also announced to support scholarships for women in STEM in partnership with industry; for medical research; and for a “patent box” initiative to encourage innovation in the medical and biotech sectors.

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