Tag Archives: Australian research funding

R&D

R&D tax investment takes a hit

The biggest loser appears to be the R&D tax measures for business, reducing from $2.8b to $2.3b, a fall approaching 18%. Some care needs to be exercised as the comparisons given are not final figures; they are the estimated actual figures for 2017-18 and the budget estimate figures for 2018-19. Furthermore, the R&D tax measures are not actually government spending but are revenue foregone by the government, which is perhaps more difficult to estimate.

The full impact of changes to the R&D tax measures are yet to play out. The Ferris, Finkel, Fraser Review of the system was announced as part of the NISA statement in December 2015. The reviewers were asked to “identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the R&D Tax Incentive, including by sharpening its focus on encouraging additional R&D spending”.

The review panel found that the R&D tax measures fell short of meeting their objectives of additionality and spillovers. They recommended six changes, which have been the subject of considerable debate since the public release of the report in September 2016. A “collaboration bonus” recommendation was not taken up, although a number of advocacy groups have continued to press the case. On budget night this year, the government announced a range of measures to “refocus” the R&D tax measures. The refocusing included a crack down on R&D tax claims that push the boundaries of the arrangements, with enhanced integrity, enforcement and transparency arrangements. A consultation process closed 26 July and the final form of the legislation is expected to come before the current parliament.

What we currently know is that the government expects a significant reduction in the total cost of the R&D tax measures from 2017/18 to 2018/19. What we don’t know is how much the reduced expenditure is due to actual reduced R&D spending by companies or whether savings from the crack down and enhanced enforcement are having a great impact. While one still hears horror stories of tax claims for “R&D” that looks far more like business as usual, most of the stories haven’t changed that much from the last big reforms in 2010. Obviously no government wants to provide incentives to companies to simply do what they would have done regardless. Getting that balance right is the key to tax measures for R&D and it will remain a closely watched space over the coming year.

While indirect R&D support to business may be reducing, the direct mechanism through the CRC Program is doing relatively well. Budget figures show an increase of over $30M in the annual allocation to the program over the forward estimates, rising to $192M in 2021-22. The increase is much needed, as it brings the program back toward the level it enjoyed a decade ago. The introduction of the extremely popular CRC-Projects comes from the same budget and they continue to build momentum with business. Demand for CRC-Ps is growing substantially and companies enjoy the simplicity of the grants which foster collaboration between businesses and between business and public research organisations.

The Science, Research and Innovation Budget tables can be viewed here.

– Tony Peacock

Originally published by the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

OrbIT group pic resized assistive technology

Game on – assistive tech for Parkinson’s disease

A gaming system called ‘OrbIT’ is being trialled to improve health outcomes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, thanks to a collaboration between Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and Parkinson’s South Australia.

The three-year study, funded by the Estate of the late Olga Mabel Woolger, will trial the assistive technology as a cognitive training device to improve outcomes and delay the onset of dementia for people with Parkinson’s disease. The research project is led by Flinders University Rehabilitation Engineer David Hobbs and University of Adelaide neuroscientist Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, in partnership with Parkinson’s South Australia.

The OrbIT system is a fun and easy to use computer gaming system designed to engage the player in targeted, cognitively challenging activities. It features a novel controller which does not require a strong grip or fine motor control. This makes it highly suitable for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, who may otherwise struggle to use traditional gaming consoles.

There are over 82, 000 Australians living with Parkinson’s today, making it the most common major movement disorder and second most prevalent neurodegenerative condition. There is currently no cure.

“Within 15 to 20 years, 80% of people with Parkinson’s will go on to develop dementia”, explains Dr Collins-Praino. “Using the OrbIT system as a cognitive training device may help to slow down and prevent this.”

OrbIT was originally developed for children with cerebral palsy and has also been trialled for people undergoing stroke rehabilitation. The current collaboration came about through a chance meeting when Dr Collins-Praino attended a presentation by OrbIT lead developer Mr Hobbs and suggested the potential for OrbIT to help people with Parkinson’s.  

“Sometimes the best collaborations come about by chance”, says Dr Collins-Praino, who is looking forward to using OrbIT in a clinical setting. “It’s really exciting to have a potential tool that can make cognitive training accessible.”

The trials will take place through Parkinson’s SA’s new Brain x Body Fitness Studio, a studio which focuses on movement and flexibility, whilst also being a social hub for over 50’s. As well as traditional gym facilities, Brain x Body provides programs and assistive technologies which have been clinically proven to improve neuroplasticity,

Chief Executive Officer of Parkinson’s SA, Olivia Nassaris, has always been on the lookout for assistive technologies and was highly impressed by OrbIT when she first visited Mr Hobbs’ Flinders University laboratory last year. She describes OrbIT as the perfect project. “It happened completely organically. Dr Collins-Praino saw the potential for the benefits of OrbIT to be translated to Parkinson’s research and the collaboration has worked out perfectly between the three groups.”

“Assistive technology such as OrbIT improve quality of life by maximising independence and self-management”, says Ms Nassaris. This research trial will be an important step in improving the health outcomes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.  

Source: University of Adelaide, Parkinson’s SA

Image: Lyn Paunovic (centre), who has Parkinson’s disease, holds the OrbIT game controller. Left to right: Lyn’s husband Tolley Paunovic, Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, Lyn Paunovic, Olivia Nassaris and David Hobbs.

national press club address

Australia’s science vision centres on collaboration

Featured image: Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, addresses the National Press Club at Science meets Parliament 2017

The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinas, highlighted collaboration and ensuring all Australians understood the benefits of science as key areas of focus for the Government’s science ‘vision’ in an address to the National Press Club.

The Hon Sinodinas is the fourth Minister for Science in four years. This was his inaugural address to what Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel termed the ‘network of nerds’, a gathering of over 200 of Australia’s most senior scientists at Science meets Parliament.

Sinodinas said innovation has become a buzzword that “excites socially mobile, inner-city types; but for other Australians, creates anxiety – about job losses and insecurity.”

However Australians need to be prepared for disruption as “the new constant”, he warned.

“We need to manage the transition from the resources boom to more balanced, broad-based growth.

“This is against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty and slower economic growth, and a yearning for more protectionist measures.”

Sinodinas went on to quote Atlassian co-founder and highly successful tech entrepreneur Mike Canon-Brookes, who recently questioned if the government was “dodging the question of job losses as a result of innovative change.”

“The Government has started a conversation with the Australian people to address just that question. We’re about helping your business to respond to disruption and stay viable in the future. We want to create a culture of innovation across the board.”

Australia’s climate science and energy future

Overall, the mood at Science meets Parliament, which brings 200 science, technology, engineering and maths professionals and researchers to Canberra to pitch their programs to politicians – about a third of whom volunteer their time – was positive and researchers were happy to be heard.

national press club address
Science meets Parliament brings together 200 STEM professionals, researchers and Australian politicians.

“Science meets Parliament is a great event. It is about recognising the contribution of scientists. Scientists and politicians should be natural communicators,” said Sinodinas.

He also addressed criticisms of the Government’s commitment to climate change science at the National Press Club address.

“We haven’t turn our back on climate science, we made sure it is properly looked after and protected and that will provide its own insight into climate science information. We are also trying to deal with this issue at the same time as we deal with the affordability and reliability of energy.”

Science at the forefront of the next election

Last night both the Minister and Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten presented their vision of science at a gala dinner. Sinodinas extolled Australia’s national research infrastructure, including the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array, a 3000-dish radio antennae that will offer an unique glimpse into the universe’s early history. He also emphasised we need to “nail collaboration”.

“As a country, if we want to have control over our economic destiny, we want to have world class companies operating out of Australia. To do that we need to nail collaboration.

“Finding the money for the next stage of the research infrastructure is a challenge.”

Shorten also highlighted collaboration as an essential goal, and reiterated the Opposition’s goal to invest 3% of GDP in science R&D by 2030.

“Science research and innovation are not niche areas. They should be frontline for all of us.

“The issues that scientists deal with are political and there needs to be this engagement,” said Shorten.

“Science research and innovation are economic, environmental and practical issues that are vital to adapting to technological change and will allow us to compete in the Asian market. It shapes the way that we learn and teach.”

national press club address
Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten with Refraction Media Head of Content Heather Catchpole (left) and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown (right)

He also emphasized the need for job security for postgraduate researchers, a sentiment widely echoed by scientists attending the Science meets Parliament event.

“For all of those postdoc researchers who spend years, we owe you certainty in terms of support,” said Shorten.

“We can’t complain about fake news when the facts don’t suit the stories. We see you as essential to the future. Science will be at the forefront of the next election.”

– Heather Catchpole