Budget a mixed bag for science and technology sector

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivering his 2019-20 Budget speech in Parliament. Source: Twitter.

The Morrison government’s 2019-20 Budget contains some mixed news for Australia’s science and technology sector, providing boosted funding for women in STEM and the nation’s space sector alongside cuts to several research agencies and programs.

$3.4 million in new funding will support women in STEM, and includes investment in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative led by the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

$25 million in funding has also been provided for for coastal, environment and climate research, $56 million for nuclear medicine and waste management, $5 million for a dark matter particle research facility, $15 million for expanded outreach and education activities through Questacon, and $19.5 million over four years to establish a Space Infrastructure Fund.

However, the $3.9 billion Education Investment Fund has been abolished, with its funding reallocated to a new Emergency Response Fund, while funding reductions totalling $389 million over four years have been made to future allocations to university research, the CSIRO and Australia’s research grant programs.

The Budget outlines cuts of $6.73 million to ARC research funding, which reverses 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.

Science & Technology Australia, the national peak body for scientists, warned that the Budget had missed the opportunity to invest in solution-making scientific and technological research and Australian institutions and agencies that make it possible.

“Cuts to CSIRO and a failure to keep pace with inflation for most national research agencies are stark concerns for the science and technology sector,” said the president of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston.

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

The president of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, said it was “counterintuitive” to seek to produce a budget surplus 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,” Professor Shine said.

“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.”